Lego Super Mario, reviewed: A real-life Super Mario Maker
We opened the box and poured out a few colored stones. Then we put Mario together, plugged in a couple of batteries, snapped his braces, and watched him say hello.
Lego’s large playset series for this summer is the result of a: a series of Super Mario game sets that were first teased a few months ago. Lego Super Mario is also more than that. It is a modular interactive game, almost a lighter version of Nintendo Play on the counter. It is an open type of course constructor. And it has a scanner-enabled, interactive electronic Mario figure that’s a new idea for Lego kits, but somehow feels familiar, like a Lego-compatible Nintendo Amiibo type.
Nintendo has dealt with connected toys before. And I checked Lego robotics sets with connected elements., as well as , a set of foldable cardboard kits connected to a switch. Lego Super Mario is not exactly like that. It’s easier and more aimed at 7 year olds and more. My child, who is in the second grade in autumn, found it to be a perfect construction. We spent weeks putting it together in June.
Lego Super Mario is a clever and beautifully designed set of Lego sets with Mario motifs, in which elements of a larger game are embedded. How advanced this game is is still a little unclear, but it makes Lego Super Mario more than just a brick set.
The Lego Super Mario sets arrive on August 1st, but I’ve looked at a number of pre-production sets to see how they work that Lego sent. The sets require a phone or tablet app (Android or iOS) to display interactive instructions and to connect and pair with the Super Mario character via Bluetooth. You can play with the set without the app, but you will need the app for instructions and setup. My Mario character needed a firmware update before I started.
Lego Mario is an adorable little thing and sometimes a little creepy. He has glowing spots on his eyes and chest that show expressions and scores, as well as power-up information. He makes noises. A motion sensor inside can detect when Mario is trembling or falling or jumping, and he makes sound effects and earns coins that appear on his chest. It is a small Lego action figure with super powers. Shaking to make coins feels almost like shaking a fitness tracker to make steps.
A scanner on the underside of Lego Mario recognizes specially coded bricks on enemies and power-ups that trigger effects. If you tap a pipe at the beginning and a flag at the end, the time challenges of the course are displayed. You move and tap Mario as fast as you can to get coins. There are other coded bricks that earn points or start mini-game challenges. Mario’s built-in LCD display can track the score and show what the power-ups do. Mario also has various outfits that add extra power and are available separately for $ 10 each (I have to try the cat suit that gives coins when Mario is turned over to pull up walls).
Some parts of the Mario sets are kinetic: Tip Mario on a mine car track that sways too far and he bumps into the Piranha Plant Chompers and loses points. Or it is knocked over if it spins in an area with part 1 coin bonus. But mostly the gameplay feels casual. Did you get a high score? OK, try again. I could also see some children just tapping and “cheating” on blocks to get higher scores. What ever. It is free form. Nobody judges.
The $ 60 starter set contains the parts you need for all extensions. There is a Super Mario character that is electronic (powered by two AAA batteries) connected to a phone or tablet, and parts to complete a short course, and a small Bowser Jr. figure and that Starting tube and the end flag, which are also needed for other course designs.
The Lego Super Mario app for Android or iOS contains all digital instructions. The use feels like the app experience on Legos Boost robotics set or Nintendo’s foldable Labo cardboard construction games for the switch. We’ve also put together some expansion sets: one with Bullet Bills ($ 30), one with a Piranha Plant seesaw ($ 30), and a larger toad treasure set with small adorable toad and toadette characters ($ 70) -Dollar). There are a total of 10 expansion sets. The most expensive is a $ 100 Bowser’s Castle set that I haven’t tried (but want to buy). There are also small $ 5 mini-character mystery packs that contain a scannable part that Mario can tap on (I opened a mini-bullet bill).
No set was very complicated, and assembly took about half an hour to an hour per set. My 7 year old did almost all the work.
What happens after you’ve created all the sets?
The sets look great and are cute when placed on a table. But once they’re done, the idea is to remix them and solve the parts to build new designs and new courses. Between tapping Mario in the pipe that starts the level and tapping the flagstone to finish the level, try to collect coins as quickly as possible. By wiggling, hopping, hitting other stones, balancing on some pieces and … well, it’s a little open. My kids and I tried a “championship challenge” about Zoom with Jonathan Bennink, Lego Super Mario’s chief designer. It was basically a matter of collecting as many coins as possible in a set time using a special course that we had re-mixed from pieces of multiple courses. The result of the score felt pretty random, since Mario was shaken quickly and thrown a few pieces before the timer ran out.
There is a consistent game part of Lego Super Mario, one type: when you pair Mario with the app, the results are synced so you can keep track of how many coins you have received on different courses that you have with friends in the Lego app can share.
There are many Super Mario sets: you could always get more of them, mix parts and see which constructions appear. Added sets are scanned into the app and displayed on a 3D map that shows which game sets you have collected. But there isn’t a lot of gameplay that unlocks.
Unlike more structured and screen-based creative Nintendo games like Super Mario Maker, a switch game to create crazy platform challenges, Lego Super Mario feels a lot more relaxed and relaxed – and not that complicated. It’s more about playing with the pieces. It’s also more relaxed than Nintendo Labo, with elaborate designs and unlockable games, or Lego Boost, a robotics kit that includes programming. Sometimes Lego Super Mario seems more like the parts of a board game where you lay out parts of the course to complete a challenge, but a board game with no clear rules.
I would have liked a bit more structure or in-app guides for other game ideas. There will be weekly challenges in the Lego app when it starts, and there will be opportunities to share build ideas with others. So far, it feels more Lego than Mario and more toys than a game.
My kids loved it, and even my 11-year-old thought it was the set his game-obsessed brain dreamed of. Will you continue to use it? It depends on how many game design ideas Lego develops with the set. Perhaps the scannable coded stones could be reprogrammed, or you could design new rules for layers. Or do you have a race with two Mario characters (how about Peach?) All at once. I’m starting to think about opportunities. I wonder if Lego will activate it.
My eldest son, who is 11, has some notes for Lego: instructions should be in the box instead of relying on an app. Or, even better, Lego Mario should help somehow and be a guide without relying on a phone or tablet screen. He also says that rules are fun. More rules or clear rules would lead to more interesting game ideas and more challenges. Limitations can inspire design. Lego is all about playing openly, but when things get too open it can sometimes feel a little too driving. For younger children, however, the open feel of Lego Super Mario can feel very inviting, and the set could allow game ideas to be prototyped if you are open-minded.
After our original Lego Super Mario game weeks ago, my kids lost interest. I think Lego should expand the game ideas so that children keep coming back and offering more tangible goals. The open design may not be convincing enough to encourage long-term gaming.
If nothing else, Lego Super Mario looks like solid summer entertainment for a summer when we can’t do much or travel very far. And I have to admit, I’ve become addicted to turning Mario on and just letting him hit a few stones.