2020 marks the 30th anniversary of the world’s famous plumber, Mario, Nintendo’s crown jewel in their extensive roster of IPs. We’ve seen him in a myriad of forms over the years but never as part of the LEGO family… until now.
Power up and hop back into the world of bricks, as our beloved Italian plumber and his pixelated world have now been immortalised in LEGO form, but not necessarily in the framed way that you might be familiar with. Some might say this is simply the start of a new way to play… or a big attempt to.
The upcoming LEGO Super Mario series will feature a Starter Pack along with a mind-boggling amount of Expansion Packs; which will probably cause everyone collecting them to make quite a dent in their wallet. Hence, we are sure that like us, many must be wondering that beyond being a novelty item, what else do these sets entail for us?
To answer that question, we were invited to a LEGO Super Mario Virtual Session and had a swell time learning more about sets. The LEGO Group pulled out all stops when it came to the planning of this virtual event, as the entire hour was filled with exciting challenges and a fun yet informative sharing session from LEGO’s Digital Design Lead Jonathan Bennink dialing in from Denmark.
Right off the block, our creativity and brick building skills were put to the test when tasked to build our own LEGO Mario Land with the Starter Pack and Expansion Pack. We were fortunate to receive the Piranha Plant Power Slide Expansion Set and had a different experience piecing together the set from the norm.
No instruction booklet? No problemo! What’s cool about the building process was that LEGO Super Mario comes with an app. All we had to do was to follow the digital directions in-app in order to get the basics right. In addition, the 3D model could be rotated around for us to have a better idea of its structure.
In order to better understand what on earth the model we had painstakingly put together was all about, we had an inter-team challenge amongst all the attendees. Imagine Monopoly but with a 60-sec time limit and cute characters. The main aim of the elaborate set-up was to earn as many coins as possible through jumping on various coloured blocks and barcodes.
Much like the Mario gameplay itself, we could earn points from ‘defeating’ the enemies by knocking them over and jumping repeatedly onto them. We could even climb up the brown walls(or trees, depending on how you choose to arrange the bricks) or hitch a ride on Lakitu’s cloud to earn more points.
Points were reflected on the Mario figurine’s LCD screen and also in-app which was linked to the toy via Bluetooth. We could even jump onto the “?” blocks to earn mystery rewards such as additional game time. Yup, you read that right! The Mario figurine has LCD screens and is electronic, he even comes with buttons on his back to power him on/off and to activate his Bluetooth connectivity. As such, Mario requires two AAA batteries in order to power up for his rounds, and this compartment can be found in the slot behind the figure.
Standing at roughly seven centimetres tall, the Mario figurine is almost two to three times the size of the average LEGO figurine aka minifig. Moreover, where his eyes, mouth and belly should be are LCD screens. The facial screens will reflect his various expressions, even going “@@” when he has been knocked unconscious after falling off. Mario’s mouth will even change when he shouts iconic catchphrases like “Wa-Hoo!”
Mario’s sensor is located below him and works when he scans the barcodes which are printed on special square bricks. The barcodes are individualised for each enemy or point-earning structure found within the sets. Via Bluetooth, the mobile app will then register the number of items interacted with and even give a coin summary once Mario ends his turn. The barcode bricks themselves can be attached to the enemies and various pit stops, such as Bowser’s shell, the Piranha slide cart and the finishing point.
Mix-and-match as Mario’s overalls and hats are also detachable so that you can change his outfits to Builder Mario, Propeller Mario, Fire Mario and even Cat Mario. But, the true magic works from within as Mario is equipped with an accelerometer, a gyroscope and a colour sensor. When shaken, at certain points, Mario will be able to sense the movements and react via his expressions and coins earned.
When laid flat on his back, Mario will shut his eyes and even start snoring. Mario also interacts differently with the various enemies. When jumping on the Goomba, a small explosion-like icon will appear on the LCD screen. As for the Koompa and Bowser, Mario’s LCD will prompt you to jump five times before being able to earn any coins.
When placed on the Piranha slide, a little tune from Super Mario Bros 3 Boss Battle will start up, which is a nice bit of nostalgia thrown in. Mario will also make a “>.<” expression as he is sliding along the structure and will go into a non-coin collecting mode for about three seconds if he hits any of the plants.
We wonder how many more easter eggs LEGO and Nintendo have packed into the plumber as they roll out more sets.
When it comes to actual “gameplay” there might be a fair bit of LEGO building strategy. As mentioned earlier, the “?” blocks will allow for mystery rewards when Mario lends onto them. One of the rewards was a mushroom and if you receive it, Mario will have an invulnerability against the attacks. Hence, it would be wise to position the block before the Piranha slide.
Both the Starter Pack and the Expansion Packs include exclusive pieces printed for the enemies such as Bowser’s and Koompa’s eyes, mouth and shells. The Starter Pack also has a Bowser flag for you to capture at the end of the game. Though not advisable, for the more adventurous soul, you may even consider switching up the detachable barcodes since the square pieces that the barcodes were printed on all came in the same size. (Be careful not to get confused though or you may end up earning lesser coins than expected.)
Fans of the original Nintendo game will definitely appreciate the details such as the way Mario responds to the different coloured bricks by showing fire, water, grass and sand motifs on his LCD screen. It even works when you put him on similarly coloured non-LEGO items! We could also earn stars and mushrooms or even lose points when Mario falls over, just like in the gameplay itself.
The action really picks up with the Piranha Plant Power Slide. The enemy lineup changes from that of the Starter Pack as the Koompa makes its first appearance in this set along with another Goomba and the exclusive Piranha slide.
The Piranha slide actually comes off as more of a seesaw than a slide but it probably got its name from the way the central cart slides along it. The slide itself is made up of green roller-coaster-track-like pieces and long brown pieces, with the Piranha plants attached at both ends. The plants themselves contain pieces which form a joint so as to replicate the snapping motions of their heads as the slide is tilted up and down. The extra “desert” detail pieces thrown in such as the spiky cactus, flowers and even bits of loose rock were lovely to have too.
The designers have even included an ingenious new challenge to the point earning system: by sliding Mario to and fro, players could earn bonus points. Looks can be deceiving for what seemed like a simple set-up ended up becoming a thrilling challenge to avoid the “fearsome” plants. We did feel that the novelty did wear off after a few repeated times though as it was easier to skip the sliding challenge in favour of earning more points from simply smashing down on the Goombas.
While this was not exactly how the digital gameplay would go, the challenge does cleverly replicate the thrilling experience of dodging these man-eating fauna. The Piranha set also includes an additional Goomba (we can’t have too many in one level after all) and a Koopa for us to defeat and again earn points.
Playing with Mario in the real-world did allow Mario to have limitless freedom of movement we could pick up his body and shake or bring him around. And this is one point that greatly differs from the gameplay with the restricted motions that the system and controls provide. The sets definitely work best when playing against friends as completing the 60-sec challenge by ourselves didn’t have much of a punch. You would have to ensure that your friends have their own LEGO Super Mario sets too though!
Afterwards, we continued with a sharing session with Jonathan Bennink to gain more insights on this unique collection. Apparently, the sound design and music for the collection was also composed by Koji Kondo, the original sound designer of the Super Mario games!
Bennink also demonstrated a costume change for Mario and we were delighted to see that the collection will include a Cat Mario suit, because, what’s the point of dressing up if you can’t be a cat.
If you’re wondering about the lack of a physical instruction booklet, well that’s because Bennink and team really wanted people to fully immerse themselves in the app. They felt like it was too much of a hassle to constantly switch between digital and physical. Plus, if there was a booklet, collectors may forget to load the app and thus lose out on the interactive experiences. This could also be the first step towards efforts to be greener and go paperless in future too, which would be super cool if it happened.
Overall, the LEGO Super Mario series would be a quirky fun addition to your collection. Moreover, due to its interactivity and less complex parts, parents can also share the joy of this collection with their young children. LEGO has been rolling out a ton of teasers regarding their newest interactive LEGO Super Mario series and fans of the 80’s game are more than ready to get their hands on the sets.
The sets will launch globally on 1 August 2020. May brick enthusiasts and Nintendo fans thoroughly enjoy their hands-on LEGO experience and have a super Mario time!
Also, if you can’t get enough of Nintendo and Super Mario, there’s even a LEGO Nintendo Entertainment System launching concurrently, complete with a retro-style TV.