Lego’s collaboration with Nintendo has led to some truly incredible sets, like the NES. But while the core Lego Super Mario collection has focused on creating fun play experiences, that’s been at the expense of display-ability and value outside play.
These are kids’ toys, and their primary function should obviously be play. But creating sets that also look good on a shelf opens the market more to collectors, and means kids can put them on display as a reminder to play with them more often than the less attractive spindly sets that get stored in a box.
This week Lego expanded on that original Super Mario line with a Luigi starter pack, and several brand new sets, including one that’s an incredible build, fun to play with, and looks good in a collection: Bowser’s Airship Expansion Set.
At $129 from Kmart for 1152 pieces, it’s not exactly a value toy, especially given you need a Lego Super Mario or Luigi Starter Set to unlock the instructions in the app. But while it’s quite clearly still aimed at children, it provided one of the most enjoyable building experiences I’ve had from a Lego set aimed at ages 8+.
The experience is spread across 13 bags, none of which have too many pieces, so it’s easier to make sure nothing gets lost during the build, and it doesn’t require too much spreading out. You start by building adorable Kamek, Rocky Wrench and Goomba (with a tiny pirate hat) characters, followed by some masts, including one which has a really clever mechanism to attach a big Bowser hand.
The Airship itself is the main event. It comes with some big, moulded ship pieces in a light brown, and then you just keep building up from there. The build has heaps of little details scattered throughout, like mechanisms to reveal characters, and a little bit that Lego Super Mario/Luigi can land on, revealing a steering wheel (and then the Mario/Luigi starts playing the Skyland theme while flying and it’s extra adorable).
It’s easily the most detailed Super Mario set so far, with giant Bowser heads at bow and stern, and beautiful red and grey decorations on the side of the ship. There’s also a wealth of building techniques to be discovered throughout, and should set up kids and adults alike to try their hand at their own more challenging creations. Having the instructions in 3D in the app also makes it easier to view it from all angles if you ever get lost or want to double check how something is supposed to work.
The cleverest part of the build, though, is the way it concertinas out to provide more play/display surface. It’s artful in its simplicity, and just looks so damn cool plus it means it can be nice and compact for storage if needed.
Now, having seen what Lego is capable of in the Mario collection, still taking play into account, it makes it even more frustrating how many of the sets are just “enemy on top of a brick tower” or “enemy on a spinning thing on a brick tower”. I understand the aim is to encourage children’s’ imagination, but surely there are opportunities to do that and make sets that look really cool. They’ve done it before with Lego City and Lego Friends.
Hot off the heels of Vidiyo, which is on clearance around the world partially because the sets didn’t provide enough buildability and people were confused by the concept, I did worry about the future of Lego Super Mario. If they’re able to continue in the same vein as Bowser’s Airship (and also cheaper and smaller versions), then it might be OK.