New kid on the block

Apple Arcade managed to squeeze its latest game in just before the holiday break — and it’s yet another very welcome surprise. Called Builder’s Journey, it’s a puzzle / adventure hybrid that tells the story of a parent and child exploring a mysterious world. It’s what would happen if you took Monument Valley and reimagined it with Lego bricks.

Builder’s Journey is divided into a series of distinct — and adorable — diorama-like levels. Each one is small enough that it fits on a single screen; you don’t need to scroll around, though you can rotate each level slightly to get a glimpse from different angles. There are two characters, each made out of a handful of tiny Lego pieces (curiously there are no minifigs in the game). In most stages the goal is simply to get the pair to the end of the level, or to unite them. Sometimes you just need to build a nice sand castle. Naturally, you do this by playing with Lego.

You don’t control the characters directly. Instead, in most cases what you’re doing is creating a path to get them safely somewhere. That might mean erecting a bridge over a perilous, rushing river, or snapping together a series of ramps that one character can roll across on a skateboard. Initially, the premise and puzzles are fairly simple, as you guide the two through a quaint wilderness. But inevitably things get more complex. Soon enough you’ll be operating strange machinery and dealing with cheerful robots.

Much like Monument Valley and its ilk, Builder’s Journey tells its story entirely through animation and gameplay; there is no dialogue or narration. It’s a simple tale, but touching in its way. And it feeds directly into the relaxing atmosphere. The controls can be a bit fiddly — at times I struggled to place blocks exactly where I wanted them — but otherwise, Builder’s Journey is a laid-back and intuitive experience.

It’s particularly surprising as an official Lego product, given the company’s history, which has primarily focused on family-friendly action games based on Star Wars and Harry Potter. But Builder’s Journey was developed by a brand-new internal studio called Light Brick, suggesting we might see more of these experimental, cerebral Lego titles in the future. In the meantime, Apple Arcade subscribers can check it out right now.