Reviewed by Chris McGee (SAFOLs Member, jhbLUG Member)
The world is changing
So, the partnership between LEGO® and Nintendo® has become a highlight for many during an altogether rough 2020. Just the news alone brought with its thoughts and wishes of set integrations with favourite games, minifigures of our favourite characters and possibly even LEGO® themed Nintendo games.
What we got was the announcement of a 4-year development and design process which yielded this starter course with its unusual figurine star. I was intrigued more than upset but I will not lie… I saw my minifigure dream collapse into a million studs. After a few days, more insights started to come to mind and after a few viewings of the videos, I decided not to write the concept off just yet.
A couple of months later the internet reviewers started receiving early sets for building and reviews (a great idea for this new concept I believe as it allowed for many different opinions to be available). I managed to see the potential of something I thought I could get into through these and taking the chance, pre-ordered my starter course. And, in late August, it arrived a bit earlier and I have now had about a week with the set.
The technology and the figure:
So, LEGO has produced something entirely unique with this figure, making great use of the technology available and packed into a reasonably small and (thankfully) sturdy package. The main point of focus is on the screen behind the eyes, mouth, and chest, which has some great expressions and bring Mario to life in a fun way. There is also a speaker which projects Mario’s voice with notable quotes and reacts to various movements with nostalgic sound effects. Internally the figure comes equipped with an accelerometer and gyroscope which perform well in understanding the movement of the figure and gives precise integration with the sounds and expressions. The scanner is also spot on and interacts almost seamlessly with the different bar codes and colour plates.
It is a really simple concept… build a course, laying out various pieces provided, start using the start tile provided through scanning it with your new LEGO Mario, finish using another tile, and during the run, collect as many coins as you can.
Though a simple concept like this may seem arbitrary and uninteresting, it allows for an imagination to take flight and basically go anywhere it wants to. My son started changing up the course, adding plates to extend the trail, and within a few hours we had played around 10 different courses and he still had more ideas. I am pleased to say that I gave it a good go and only narrowly lost in the coin count.
So the build is not complex and it is a bit annoying that there are only digital instructions (there is a short booklet that explains Mario himself, but from there you would need the app which is available for your smart devices) or download the instructions from lego.com. As an adult, I didn’t enjoy the app giving me not only build instructions, but these are also in pieces and with some videos in between. I do understand the need though as the videos act as tutorials which show kids how to use Mario and interact with the different elements, and for a 6+ set, this is needed. The tutorials will definitely help kids during their first couple of runs with Mario.
The new parts are appreciated and do aid in connecting the different sections with ease needed just simple 2x something plates to help structure your course layout. They even include a few extra plates to help get more combinations.
So as noted, the premise is to collect as many coins as possible in 60 seconds. Now many will ask, “Why bother with the route, line up all the barcoded tiles, stomp Mario down thereon and end it?”, and they may have a point. But I could ask the same of other games such as snakes and ladders. Why not just make the snakes pointless and just go through the game without any hindrance? Well, it is because it is a board game and with any game, there are rules whereby the players would decide on which to follow or how to engage.
This new LEGO® theme pushes the same idea, although imposes far fewer rules, with it pretty much being for you to start and finish before time runs out. Fewer rules will allow kids to create their own games with different challenges or mechanics. One course which I made was that the end was at the other side of our lounge and you needed to travel by the provided “cloud” to fly there, collecting coins along the way (but again, you need to time your other actions to be able to make it). You can put all the elements in or shorten the course, thereby also maximising or limiting the amount of coins possible.
In effect, I equate this system to something akin to a board game, just with some impressive technology and almost boundless potential.
Thankfully, Mario will work without the application and will play just fine on the course itself, but to note that he does get firmware updates through the application which may provide added functionality later on. The application works just fine and also provides access to building instructions and ways to share courses and scores with others. One nice feature of the app is that it will give you a breakdown of where you earned coins if you connect the figure to the app before starting a course run, which is very handy to try and develop strategies towards maximising your coin haul.
The starter course comes in at R999 retail price, which I feel is warranted given the quality tech and workmanship within the Mario figure and the elements provided give added value to a full experience within the game itself. With that being said, there are also expansions available to lengthen and add to the experience. Currently I do see these as being over-priced though, even if I were to liken them to video game or board game expansions. Having had limited time with the set so far, it would be unfair of me to say that the expansions are not needed, but for now the starter course really does provide a solid experience.
So it isn’t an attention seeking item that requires a lot of your time but I have thoroughly enjoyed walking up to a course during a break and giving it a go and 60 seconds later I have sometimes bettered my prior score or found myself annoyed and wanting to try again. For me it has given a nice breakaway from work and a nice interlude with my son when we just need to do something. So, I am quite impressed with this.
I think a lot of my interaction comes from me being into board games already and a fan of the Mario games. I can say then for adults without the fanfare or who do not have kids, may find this set and the premise difficult to digest. Nintendo has always been geared towards innovation and providing a unique experience, and with LEGO® I believe that they have brought something that truly follows this pattern and brings us an entirely new and authentic experience.
Simply put, this is great for families, great for kids. Adults who can see past the standard “LEGO® sets” will gain a lot from this experience with the fun that can be had here, but I can say that it probably isn’t for everyone.