Lego Super Mario Is A Weird New Way To Play With Lego

Photo: Mike Fahey
Photo: Mike Fahey

The partnership between Nintendo and Lego, two of the world’s most popular family-friendly entertainment brands, has born fruit. Lego Super Mario is an odd amalgam of gaming and building that requires a healthy imagination to be enjoyed to its fullest.

The Lego Super Mario launch lineup is massive and hard to find. Since launching earlier this month, stores across the country have been selling out of the expansion sets, Mario power-up kits, and blind-bagged characters that make collecting the whole set cost upwards of $900. We grabbed a copy of the $80 starter set from Lego’s online shop and got to building.

Photo: Mike Fahey

The Adventures with Mario starter course is required for any other Lego Super Mario sets to function. The 231 piece set is the only way to procure Mario himself, an electronic figure with LED eyes, mouth, and chest as well as a built-in speaker for playing music and reacting to actions like jumping on a Goomba’s head or stepping in lava.

Without his batteries and additional Lego pieces installed (pants, hat, ears), Lego Super Mario looks a bit odd. Some might say soulless. Others will run screaming. I like his little empty face.

Photo: Mike Fahey

Such an odd thing to find inside a Lego kit. With his legs, clothing, and two AAA batteries (not included), Lego Mario is a whole lot more charming, if still a bit off-putting.

Photo: Mike Fahey

Mario is the key to the entire Lego Super Mario experience. There are sensors beneath his body that can detect if he’s standing on green, red, or blue objects, reacting as if they are grass, lava, or water respectively. The sensors also read QR codes on special Lego Mario bricks, allowing the figure to react accordingly.

For example, one of the first items the Lego Super Mario app suggests new starter kit owners build is the Goomba. It’s a bunch of bricks stacked on top of a pair of shoe pieces, with a printed face plate giving it that signature Goomba glare. On top of the Goomba there is a QR code. When Mario is placed atop the code, a stomping sound is played and he earns a coin.

Photo: Mike Fahey

Most of the starter set’s instructions are built into the Lego Super Mario app, available for iOS and Android devices. Rather than a thick booklet, users walk through animated instructions. Pieces on screen can be rotated for a better view. It’s much easier to follow along with than the normal paper instructions. The app also includes regular challenges to engage players in new ways, like building a course that includes a favourite chair.

The Lego Super Mario app. (Screenshot: The Lego Group)

There is no right way to build a Lego Super Mario course. This is not the sort of Lego set one builds, sets on a shelf, and forgets. The entire line is meant for play, not display. Adult collectors who aren’t looking for ongoing Lego Mario excitement might want to sit these sets out.

To create a course, players need the warp pipe. Placing Mario in the pipe starts the level music and activates a 60-second timer in his chest. Should Mario not complete the course in time, he will not explode at all, though that would have been cool. To complete a course, players need the flag code piece. This QR code, attached to a base with the iconic Bowser flag, ends a level, playing the flag-dropping sound effect and victory music.

This is a valid Lego Super Mario level. Technically players don’t even need the Goomba. He’s just there for drama.

Photo: Mike Fahey

The starter course comes with a bunch of different base bits and obstacles, which are connected with red, green, or blue rectangular bits. As long as there is a pipe at the beginning and a flag at the end, the sky’s the limit. Want a weird cloud that Mario can stand on to collect coins? That’s in there. Want to have Mario face off against Bowser Jr.? Knock him over and stomp on his shell. Want to place Bowser Jr. on a precarious platform that Mario can jump on, knocking him into lava? The starter course has you covered.

Photo: Mike Fahey

The “game” gets better the more imagination the player provides. Adults might not enjoy the act of shuffling Mario along with their hand, jumping on items by lifting and placing the plastic plumber atop them, while young children might have a blast. Lego builders willing to mix sets up can incorporate any number of sets into their Mario courses, as long as the basic building blocks are present. I want to see Mario save Ninjago City from Bowser. Or maybe he can rescue a man who’s fallen into the river in Lego City. The possibilities are endless, as long as one has the time and patience.

As a Lego collector, I’m not feeling compelled to grab every Super Mario set I can get my hands on. The $US60 ($84) Adventures with Mario starter set has given me the basic gist. If there were more interactive electronic characters I might be tempted, but right now I’m happy with what I have.

I was worried about the weird electronic Mario, with his dead, soulless powered-off eyes and his non-standard Lego figure shape, but he’s growing on me. Just look at the face.

Photo: Mike Fahey

He’s a player, that Mario.

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