It has been very, very hard to keep my mouth shut about this one. I have so much to say and share. I can't wait to talk about this more with you guys and gals on this weekend's podcast. For now though, read my hands-on impressions and check out the pics, and we'll be sharing more later this week as well! As always, thanks for reading.
Nintendo and LEGO fans alike have been clamoring for the two companies to officially collaborate on a project. Both LEGO and Nintendo share a lot of similarities, not least of which is a focus on creating fun for all ages. Nintendo and LEGO love to put smiles on the faces of people around the world, and what better way is there to do that than with an official tie-up? While it's taken quite a long time for that to happen, the two forces have finally teamed for something special.
Back in March of this year, Nintendo teased a new project with LEGO, which lead to the reveal of LEGO Super Mario. In typical Nintendo fashion, the project they revealed was unlike anything fans expected. Most Nintendo fans considered a LEGO collaboration that would give us various play sets and figurines based on Mario. Something straightforward and in-line with a standard LEGO release. What we're getting is an idea that takes the core approach of LEGO and expands upon it in some surprising ways.
LEGO Super Mario looks quite different from other LEGO projects, but does it still retain the same fun? Does LEGO Super Mario do the Mario brand justice? There's only so much information you can glean from official promo videos and product listings. It's a completely different thing to go hands-on with the toys themselves. Over the last two weeks, I've been lucky enough to have that opportunity.
For roughly 14 days now, I've been in possession of multiple LEGO Super Mario sets, giving them a proper run-through. The official sets were built, torn down, picked apart, thrown together in my own combinations, and so much more. I even had the chance to participate in a LEGO Super Mario virtual tournament with some other press members. All of this time with LEGO Super Mario has given me a much, much deeper understanding of what's going on here. While I was interested in the idea when it first announced, I can honestly say that going hands-on with the sets has shown me the many ways that LEGO Super Mario is an absolute blast.
Oddly enough, the first thing I want to talk about with LEGO Super Mario is the free app that accompanies the project. Most people already know that LEGO Super Mario is more interactive than your standard LEGO toy, but there's actually an app that opens up the toys to a whole new world. The app not only teaches you how to build the various LEGO toys, but also gives you ideas of how to play with them, collect pictures of your creations, share them with other players, and even take part in weekly challenges.
When you first start out with LEGO Super Mario, the bulk of your time will be spent with the app at your side. One of the app's main features is to take the place of the paper instructions that come with LEGO products. Instead of flipping pages of a booklet, you'll be thumbing through the steps on your smartphone or tablet. Not only can you get step-by-step details on how to build each project, but you'll also get to see videos of what they should look like and how you can use them when you're done.
The app will also let you rewind or fast-forward through the steps while you're building. You can even rotate each image in the building diagram in any direction you want, letting you see just how bricks slot together. This is obviously much more intuitive and helpful than a paper sheet that only presents bricks from one angle. Truth be told, the entire build portion reminded me a lot of Nintendo Labo, which includes a lot of the same features. If you've ever built a Toy-Con, you know Nintendo Labo lets you move through instructions at your own pace and see them from any angle. You'll get exactly the same kind of approach with the LEGO Super Mario app.
As I mentioned earlier, the app will also let you snap pictures to create a gallery of what you've built. You can keep these pictures to yourself, or share them in a sort of social media stream that let's you proudly display what you've cooked up. You can sift through the app to see what others have come up with, and it's quite likely some of the creations from around the world will inspire you for your next build. Depending on the success of the app and the amount of players using it, it could become a near limitless tool for creation and exploration.
Finally, there's the option for weekly challenges. This is where LEGO will conjure up various ideas for players to tackle. We're not quite sure what to expect down the road, or how sophisticated the challenges will get, but the sky's the limit. The only challenge on the app right now is a demo option that asks players to build the longest course they can. You can easily see how this could branch out into the biggest course, tallest course, course with the most hazards, and so on. There's no reason this feature couldn't be populated with challenges and more for years to come.
Having the app at your side is a portal to all kinds of fun, but none of that's going to happen without LEGO Super Mario and the various sets. Just how engaging is LEGO Super Mario? The real beauty is that LEGO Super Mario stays true to a core LEGO value. LEGO are only as fun as the person playing with them, and your imagination is the limit. The toys that LEGO Super Mario provides are the key to all sorts of amazing adventures and creations, and they let you interact with your LEGO builds like never before.
LEGO Super Mario himself is an absolutely joy, and full of all the little Nintendo touches you'd expect to see. Once you hit the power button, LEGO Super Mario springs to life by saying, "LEGO Mario time!" His eyes blink and he has a wide grin on his face. You can make him jump around on any surface and hear little bouncy sound effects, along with Mario's traditional noises and hoots/hollers. If you happen to drop him while running a course, Mario will make an "Oooph!" sound effect and squint his eyes. You can even lay Mario down on his back and he'll eventually fall asleep, complete with Zzzz's rolling across the screen on his chest, and eyes that droop and then close completely.
Things get even better when you swap out LEGO Super Mario's regular clothing for the Cat Mario costume. First off, Mario will yell out "Mama Mia!" when you take off his overalls. After that, slot on his Cat Mario costume and you'll hear the regular Mario power-up sound effect, along with Mario making a few different cat noises. Now you can use Mario to run around and play with other LEGO elements as he would in a Cat Mario suit. Have Mario climb up buildings you've created, or even make believe he's scratching at enemies to really put the suit to good use.
All these different ways to move Mario around make him that much more fun when you actually get going with the main feature of LEGO Super Mario, the various courses and expansion sets you can pick up. I was provided the Starter Course, along with the Toad's Treasure Hunt, Piranha Plant Power Slide, and Boomer Bill Barrage expansion sets. Within these kits, there are plenty of LEGO creations to build and put to use during play. They also include a number of different enemies, characters, and features that can really broaden the range of fun.
Now if you want to, you can start out by building the starter course and expansion sets as you normally would. Follow along with the in-app directions and build everything to spec as you see them on the box. The app will even have you test things out as you go by firing up Mario and having him run through what you've just built. Then when you're done with a particular course/expansion set, that build will be represented on a sort of overworld map in the app itself. It's actually pretty fun to see all your creations come together and slot into a virtual map.
Along with that, the builds suggested by the course/expansion sets give you a nice layout to work with and get the feel for what's included. Consider the starter course the perfect way to familiarize yourself with the basics of what LEGO Super Mario has to offer, and then the expansion sets will showcase new ways to play with Mario, as well as the expanded features included in each set. The important part is that you obviously don't have to keep these courses/sets locked into these specific designs. Once you're done running through the suggested builds and you've learned how they work, you can feel free to tear them down and run through however you like. That's where the real fun begins.
As any LEGO fan knows, building sets can be a blast, but things get really interesting when you come up with your own creations. There's nothing like diving into your big box of LEGO bricks to see what you can create. Sometimes you don't even know what you're aiming to build, and you just start plugging away until things take shape. You can do the exact same thing with LEGO Super Mario, and it really opens up the ridiculous fun you can have with the various sets. It just so happens that the imagination is best explored when trying to come up with new challenges for Mario to tackle.
For me, the moment when LEGO Super Mario came alive was when I started to play with the course feature. The LEGO Super Mario starter course includes a pipe and a goal flag, two elements of Mario games that all fans are familiar with. These two different pieces are the beginning and end to Mario's adventure, and whatever you do in-between is up to you. You can take any of the various expansion sets and use those, grab your own LEGOs and implement them, or mash everything together into a Frankenstein of a course for Mario to run. Whatever you want to build is within your reach, so long as you have LEGOs to do it.
I took the various LEGOs included with the starter course and expansion sets, and laid them out in a traditional Mario-style course. I set up bricks and question mark blocks, Goombas walking in the way, Bullet Bills whizzing by, bridges crossing over Cheep Cheep-infested water, and so on. I came up with a course design that I really liked, and I thought would provide a bit of challenge as well. Now you might think the rest is handled by imagination. You just bounce Mario along, jump on enemies, and make your way to goal. You can obviously do that, but LEGO Super Mario lets you take things to a whole new level.
Once you put Mario into that start pipe, a timer will kick off on Mario's chest. From that point forward, you have 60 seconds to run through your course. Obviously, you want to try and maximize your time in the course during the run-through, and that's where coins matter. Making it to the end of a course in the 60-second time limit is no big deal. Trying to get the high score on coins while you do it is where the game opens up. Every question mark block you hit, enemy you jump on, Toad house you visit, and more will provide you with a certain amount of coins. Depending on the path you take and the luck of your play-through, you could rack up a ton of coins. You just have to make sure you lock them in by hitting the goal flag at the end of your course.
You never know how many coins you're going to get from each element in a course. Sometimes you might even get something like a Star, which can alter through playthrough as well. Even if you've only built one course, each time you play through could give you a different result. You might come up with what you think is the best way to run through a course time-wise, but you never know how coin totals will play out in the end. Also, if you happen to slip up along the way, you can put yourself in some serious trouble. Accidentally touch a "lava" brick and Mario will be hurt for a few seconds, whittling down your time. The same goes for dropping Mario, or having him fall off a moving element. Mario could be knocked loopy for a little bit, which again will cost you precious seconds.
As you play through a course, it all becomes about time management. If you ride the Piranha Plant Power Slide, you could rack up some major coins by moving back and forth between the Piranha Plants on either end. You just don't want to stay there too long and eat up too much time, or lose focus and go crashing into a Piranha Plant. You can spin around on moving platforms to get coins as well, but you risk falling off, or having to deal with Bullet Bills flying in your way. I really don't feel that the video game element of LEGO Super Mario has been explained to great lengths so far, but it really shows how the power of these sets and a player's imagination can really come together.
At the end of a course, provided you've made it to the goal flag, you'll see your total coins. If you have LEGO Super Mario connected to the app via Bluetooth, you'll see the score displayed on your phone screen. You can also see the coin total on Mario's chest as well. If you do go through the extra step of connecting to the app, all of the coins Mario collects will be noted in a lifetime total. Now whether these coins registered in the app will be used for some later features remains to be seen, but it's still nice to have a way to keep track of how many coins you've gathered up in your journeys.
As you can probably tell, this 'game' feature of LEGO Super Mario doesn't just open up a new way of play for you, but for others as well. You can have family and friends gather around to give your course a run-through. Spend time building a devious level to test their skills, have them set off the 60 seconds on the clock, and then see what they can do in the allotted time. You'll no doubt see players run through courses in different ways, have issues at different spots, and find unique ways to grab a few more coins along the way. Again, every play-through is going to be different, and seeing how others handle the course you've created is fun in and of itself.
Oddly enough, the whole LEGO aspect of LEGO Super Mario feels a bit like playing a real-life version of Super Mario Maker. You're using real-life LEGO bricks to build out a course, and you're filling it with various Mario elements as you go through. A mountain here, a Koopa Troopa there, and so on. Then when you're finished with your creation, you can give it a run-through and see how it feels. Once you've come up with something you like, then you can unleash it on the world by showing off pictures in the app, or having other real-life people get together to play.
Seeing LEGO Super Mario come together this way was extremely exciting for me. It was the moment where everything clicked. I thought the idea of LEGO Super Mario was fun in and of itself, but I wasn't getting the real magic of the experience until I got to go hands-on with the course building. Seeing how that opens up a ton of different gameplay elements was a real treat, and I can only imagine how much the younger generation will take advantage of it. I can envision massive courses spread throughout playrooms where kids have Mario bounding from custom castles to expansion set pieces, with Mario shouting and coin noises plunking the whole way through. Traditional LEGO building was already heaps of fun on its own, but this new Mario approach pushes things in so many different, amazing ways.
Seeing how the tech of LEGO Super Mario interacts with the courses is entertaining as well. LEGO Super Mario himself has a light on his underside, which lines up with little colorful bar codes on certain items. This is how LEGO Super Mario knows what he's interacting with. Question mark blocks, enemies, treasure chests, characters, and so on all have unique colored bar codes. Plop down LEGO Super Mario on the code and an appropriate action will follow. Goomba's make the correct noise when jumping on them, as do Koopa Troopas and other enemies. Cloud platforms let you fly Mario through the air, complete with a Tanooki tail sound effect. Even taking on Bowser Junior requires a certain amount of hits, with a big audio flourish at the end.
Mario will even make different sound effects for the ground he's walking on. Without the need for color bar codes, Mario knows when he's on a blue, red, green, or yellow LEGO piece. That goes for any LEGO piece, and not ones just included in this set. Blue makes a water noise, yellow sounds like sand, green is your usual ground, and touching red will have Mario screaming like he fell into lava. Again, not only does this add to the whole video game element of LEGO Super Mario, but it brings the experience to life in yet another enjoyable way.
LEGO Super Mario's starter course and expansion sets can be broken down into LEGO brick by LEGO brick to build whatever you want. There are so many different ways to combine these pieces into something new. You can incorporate some of the set-pieces the set suggests, or completely do your own thing. The same goes for your own LEGO pieces. If you buy the Starter Set just to get Mario and some enemies, you can then build anything in your imagination for Mario to run through. Use any other LEGO pieces you've accumulated to build mountains, castles, airports, space stations, firehouses, or whatever you can think of! Sprinkle in some enemies in there, use the warp pipe and goal flag, and you've just created your own custom Mario course!
I really cannot wait to see what players around the world build for LEGO Super Mario. I'm eager to see the Mario-style courses they build using the expansion sets, as well as their own custom designs. LEGO players have been building absolutely astounding creations ever since the toys first burst onto the scene, and things only get more impressive as the years go on. I know that LEGO Super Mario is going to create a whole new subset of ways to play with LEGO. That all-important element of imagination is very much a part of LEGO Super Mario, but the unique attributes of Mario's universe help to put a new spin on all of it.
Just like most others, I was a bit confused with the direction of LEGO Super Mario when it was first revealed. I saw the sets as something that I would collect for fun and display on a shelf, but that was about it. I didn't get what all the supposed interactivity was about. Having spent these two weeks with the product, I can say that I have gone from interested to fully supportive of the approach. Going hands-on with the toys really is the magic of it all, and shows you how it's an unbelievable marriage of what LEGO and Nintendo do best. LEGO and Nintendo are never afraid to venture forth in their own directions, sometimes surprising fans with things they didn't even know they wanted. LEGO Super Mario is just that, and both LEGO and Nintendo have delivered something truly unique and engaging here. I can't wait to see what the future holds.