When the LEGO Group and Nintendo announced the forthcoming release of LEGO Super Mario back in February, the announcement was met with both excitement and concern. Both companies have a history of producing great opportunities for families to play together, but what would a full blown collaboration between the two look like?
I have been looking closely at a few of the sets ahead of their August release, and will present my findings a over the next few posts. I have already posted a first look at the blind character bags – 71360. However, to get any value out of the game play in this theme, you need the Super Mario Starter set – 71360 Adventures with Mario – is essential to enjoy this theme: it is the only set where you can get the interactive Mario Brick.
Today, I hope to be able to bring you an insight into the set, and hopefully get an idea of how the set, and theme work together to incorporate different aspects of both companies core product.
I will break this article into 5 parts:
- An overview of the Mario Brick, and its functionality, as seen in this set;
- A survey of the new elements;
- An overview of the key game elements featured in the game: Builds, challenges, bonuses, as well as enemies.
- I will have a look at the game play, with some tips that I picked up from Jonathan Bennink, Digital Design Lead for LEGO Super Mario.
- Take a casual glance at the App, and hopefully demonstrate that it is not completely bad..
So, is LEGO Super Mario the result of a fantastic collaboration between two of the worlds great Play Makers, or a passing fad, destined to fizz? Read on to find out.
Whats in the Box?
The box for the starter set is not your traditional rectangular LEGO Box. The front of the box angles up, and a popup Mario leaps up from the level towards the owner of the set. It calls out to you… ‘Press on to Play’
A new theme, with an established design aesthetic, developed over the course of the last 40 years is bound to turn up a few new elements: both new moulds and recolours. There are over 30 new moulds in the series.
Being the first review of a new series I am likely to find more new moulds in this review than any other. I may accidentally miss some. For a comprehensive description of new moulds found in the theme, check out the write up on New Elementary.
There are a remarkable number of new moulds in play for this theme: Some are distinctive, such as Mario’s cap and overalls, then there is the Pipe – which serves as the starting point for our hero the tumbling plumber.
The next most obvious elements, simply because there are so many, are the double thickness plates, with rounded corners. They come as 4×4, 6×6 and 8×8 plates. The curve on the 4×4 is the same as that seen with a 2×2 round element. The curve on the 6×6 and 8×8 has the same radius: the same as you might see with a 4×4 round element. these plates come in a variety of colours. So far, I I have seen blue and green in all sizes. The 6×6 is missing in red, in this set. We also have some 4×4 and 6×6 plates in dark orange, and 4×4’s in white. I am sure we will see more as we look at more sets.
A number of other new elements are involved in our new characters. We see a new 2×2 and 3×2 foot elements, used by Goomba and Bowser Jr respectively. Bowser Jr’s shell is a 4×4 brick, with 45º slopes on each side. Each facet is embossed with a small pyramid.
The highlight for LEGO MOC builders might be the new SNOT Brick: 1×2 with 2 studs on each end, and 4 (2×2) studs on the front. There are two used for every goomba built.
The biggest surprise for me was finding elements other than mini figure hands and heads in ‘light nougat’ or flesh tone. We see 1×1 round tiles (used for Mario’s Ears. It will reappear in other sets, as the Mushroom’s head.
There is also a 1x2x3 brick (8 in fact) as well as a 2×2 brick with 4 grooves, appearing here in Dark Orange for the first time. There is also a 2×2 round tile, with a hole in the middle making its Dark Red debut. The technic ball appears in yellow for the first time.
There are no stickers to apply in this set. As I’ll discuss shortly, there action bricks, which Mario interacts with are in fact factory applied stickers. As such, there are quite a few new printed elements, particularly for our characters, as well as the bonus mystery box and flag for the end of the level. The facelift in quite well with the established graphics style in the Mario Universe – there is no doubt that we have a Goomba, a question mark Box and end of level flag. Bowser Jr might need to wait until we put him together. All of these prints are absolutely iconic, and part of Super Mario, for as long as I can remember.
The Mario Brick
We open the box, and find several bags, as well as the Mario Brick, in a seperate box. You will need a small screwdriver to install two AAA batteries in the back.We put him into his overalls, add the yellow buttons and put his hat on. His ears are added using 2 1×1 round tiles in flesh. On the back is a power button, as well as a bluetooth button. His arms look oversized, but are moulded internally to allow grip on a standard 2.8mm connection. The arms also fit using a standard minifigure arm connection.
On the from of the Mario Brick are 6 microswitches. These are activated in different ways by using different overalls, as featured in the power up sets.
After switching Mario on, and being happily greeted, I opened up the Super Mario App. It prompts me to connect Mario by pressing the bluetooth button on his back. It then proceeds to upload new firmware. This ensure’s that Mario has the latest set of firmware installed – which effects all aspects of Mario’s behaviour: his facial expressions, sounds, response to movement and landscape, and also ‘Action brick recognition’ While the App uses the Instructions Plus engine to render the building instructions, it also provides videos on using the different elements. It is not essential for game play. If you have access to the box art, most builders will not need the instructions to put together the builds for this set.
Mario contains some remarkable technology: he has accelerometers, for detecting movement in multiple directions; lights and scanner in the base, to read tiles, as well as recognise the color of any plates he is standing on; screens in the eyes, mouth and chest, which respond to game play, as well as movement and the environment; a speaker, which produces the same sounds we have come to associate with Mario of the years, and Bluetooth connectivity. All in a brick 3x4x6 1/3. In case you were wondering about the price tag behind the starter set… this is it.
Once we have assembled Mario, and updated his firmware, we can get Mario interacting with the world around him.
Mario’s sensor reads the colours of the bricks he has landed on. In this set, we can register Green (hills/forest), blue (water, complete with splash sounds) and red (fire/lava). If Mario pauses for too long on the red bricks, he burns and is unable to score coins for a few seconds after he is removed from red surfaces. On being place on a blue plate, he instantly recovers from the burn!. [Yellow plates exist in other sets, and represent desert]
In addition to Super Mario, there are two other brick built figures in this set: Goomba is a sentient brown mushroom, easily knocked off by Mario jumping on him once. Each goomba jumped on is worth one coin. There are Moore Goombas in other sets. The other figure is Bowser Jr: This antagonistic turtle like creature, is the son of Bowser, the main villain in Super Mario. He is brick built, and requires 5 strikes with Super Mario on his action brick to score 10 coins. Strike him while Mario is under the influence of a Super Star to knock him out faster, and get double coins. Now that I re-examine him, we see more new elements, that 2×4 tile, with rounded ends is a new mould too, as are his arms, which plug into standard technic pin holes.
There is of course no obligation to build the landscape elements included in the set, but they do make for a more enjoyable play experience, and bring back the importance if this being a LEGO activity.
There are several elements that we build in this set, including:
The Starting point: Warp Pipe
We build up the internal structure of the pipe, where Mario scans the first ‘Action Brick’ to commence game play.
‘Hills’ of varying height, along with a tree.
A swing, to help Mario cross a river [Mario does not actually suffer if walking through water. He just makes little splashing sounds!]
Stepping stones on the ‘lava surface’. Mario is not a fan of standing in lava!
We have 2 tower tiers, which can be stacked. there is also a tilt mechanism which can be smashed down on to collapse whatever is resent on it – be it a tower, Goomba or Bowser Jr.
There are also a few flower elements, as well as stylised trees completing the course.
We finish the house off at the pole, where the ‘Goal’ Action tile can be found.
Of course, there is no reason not to include your own existing elements in your level.
Action Bricks are, in fact, 2×2 tiles, with barcode stickers preapplied. These stickers are quite thick and robust, not like the standard stickers used in LEGO sets. During game play, the Mario figure is brought down on the tile, and the barcode read. Jonathan Bennink, the Digital Design Lead was asked about the use of stickers rather than printing on these tiles. It was found in play testing that, with repeated tapping, scraping and downright bashing of Super Mario on the action bricks, the PREAPPLIED stickers, with a protective coating were a more resilient solution compared with printing directly onto the tiles.
They are used to help Mario identify the actions in play:
- Start and finish marks. The game plays with a timer, started by jumping on the start brick. If you complete the level, and touch on the ‘finish’ brick
- Defining characters/Getting coins from defeating an enemy/greeting a friend (Different enemies require different number of taps to defeat.)
- defining movement challenges/coins – such as sliding, riding on a rotating platform or cloud
- Bonuses: A mystery box is found in this set. Other sets include 1-up mushrooms(extra life), Extra time, and Super Star powers.
In the Starter course, we have 7 Action Bricks.
ºStart and Finish of the level.
ºMystery Box: You get a random reward. There are 3 special rewards: Extra time (15 seconds); Extra life; Super Star (15 seconds of invincibility), and otherwise a coin bonus. The Special rewards can only be claimed once each per game.
ºCharacters: Goomba (1 tap) and Bowser Junior (5 taps).
ºRotating swing: stand Mario on the swing Action Brick, and rotate him back and forward, to collect coins. The swing is used to move between territories, perhaps that are high, or to avoid standing on lava. Its your choice. The longer he rides, the more likely you are to get double and triple coin bonuses. but if he falls off, he can get a bit dizzy.
ºCloud: Mario can fit on the cloud plate to ride through the air, between parts of the course. For each ‘swoosh’ he gains a coin.
Game play is pretty free form: set up your level as you wish. Use as few or as many elements as you wish. There is no need to restrict yourself to the elements in the starter set, or expansion sets: your existing LEGO Bricks can also be put to work. that said, the App suggests a very simple level to start…
Before too long, you can get a much more…interesting level… all with the starter set.
Don’t worry if there are big gaps in the layout: Mario can climb walls or fly if he has the Cat or Propellor Power Up. He can fly with the aid of the included cloud. If the worst comes to the worst, he can walk across you table. He will still earn coins if you ‘Walk him’ across the table top.
But, start at the start point, and try to finish at the ‘goal.’ The timer starts when you tap on the ‘Start’ tile. To start, you get 60 seconds.
Follow your path. You will hear Mario walk on grass, splash in water or through the sand of the desert. On lava, you might hear him burn, and yelp a little.
Jump on the Goomba to get a coin. Repeat if you wish.
Follow your level: you can play with whatever you like: ride on the swinging platform: you get more coins the longer you ride. Swing back and forth, and you can get more coins, gathering up score multipliers.But be careful that you don’t fall off…
You can get extra time (15 seconds), an extra life, super star or coins when you jump on the Question Mark (?) Box. You can only collect each ‘bonus ability’ once in a game. Super Star’s, 1-up Mushrooms and time bonuses (30 seconds) also exist as individual bricks in other sets. After all time bonuses are collectedmaking the maximum time to complete a level 1 minute, 45 seconds.
Knock down Bowser Jr’s Tower when you get to it! Jump on his back until you hear the jangle of coins! If you have the Super Star Powerup in play, you need only jump on him once.
If you need to get somewhere that is out of continuity with the rest of your level, fly there on your cloud. If you have the propellor suit Power Up, you could use that!
When you have 15 seconds releasing, the music speeds up. your goal is to make your way to the Make your way back to the ‘Goal Tile’ for bonus points when you finish.
There is no restriction on the way you arrange your course. You may wish to just install the swing, and see how many coins you can collect, riding on it for the duration of the course.
At the end of your time, your score will appear on Mario’s chest. If it vanishes before you remember it, place him on the ‘goal’ Action Brick, and it will reappear.
If you put too many challenges together, completing the level can be a difficult in the time available. But that’s ok. It’s about experimenting with the course, and seeing how you can get extra coins in the time available. and challenging your friends and family as well.
Jonathan Bennink, the LEGO Lead Digital designer, offers the following hints for anyone looking to maximise their coin count:
There is the Question Mark Block: Now, you want to try that a couple of times – there are all sorts of bonuses in there: there is 15 seconds more of time; 5 coin rewards, 10 coin rewards, star power. If you get star power, go and defeat those bigger enemies – because you get DOUBLE COINS from it. Every time you take an item out, it gets replaced by a single coin, so after a while, it doesn’t make sense to keep banging it.
Don’t just use the platforms to move around: if you get on the platform and change direction, and stay on the platform, you get a lot more coins: use them as a little merry go round, and not just a way to get somewhere.
And then, finally, you want to be using most of your level time. Once you have 15 seconds to go, Mario enters Hurry up state: the music goes quicker, and if you then finish 13 or 14 seconds later, you get a huge finish bonus, but if you go overtime, you don’t get anything. Of course you get the coins you have collected, but you don’t get the finish bonus.Jonathan Bennink, Digital Design Lead – LEGO Super Mario
What about the App?
I hear many people express reservations about any product that requires the use of an app: software is likely to stop being supported. Something that is unlikely to happen to your old Super NES with its cartridge based system. So what is the App used for? I found I was using it for the following things:
- To update the firmware in the Mario Brick
- To maintain a catalog of the sets that I have. From there, you access the instructions for building the landscape objects and characters, using the Instructions Plus engine.
- It provides instructions for using the Mario Brick to defeat enemies, as well as gain coins from activities like sliders and swings
- There is an inspiration page, featuring weekly challenges
- You can take pictures of your own layout, along with scores, and post it on LEGO Life, should you wish.
When Mario is connected to the App, and starts to play a level, the screen goes blank during game play. The person playing the level becomes the focus of attention, not the app! At the end, it will display a break down of how you earned your coins: by walking, defeating enemies and completing challenges, powers and so forth. Given the variable ways in which people might choose to play a level, there is no online leaderboard.
So, once you have built the set, the App is optional. It is designed to help with play around the level you built, providing inspiration and allowing you to save pictures of your favourite levels.
Is It Any Good?
The builds in LEGO Super Mario, as featured in the sets, are simple. While the building instructions are all accessed via the app, it was possible to build most of them with nothing but the box art.
I enjoyed playing the game, setting up the circuit, and redesigning it. This set gives an example of most of the major game mechanics that get used throughout the theme. But the expansion sets based on swinging or sliding, do so with a twist. And added Peril! There is an added joy for arranging a level and trying it out with members of your household, of all ages. There is also nothing to stop you from using your own bricks – if you want to build a better castle, or a boat for Mario to sail on, then do it. Perhaps even a car, Mario cart style can be incorporated in the layout, in the style of Mario Kart! In fact, sometimes, the weekly challenge will encourage you to use your own bricks.
I was surprised to discover that my kids… aged 18 and 20 were even interested in playing the game.
I can see this product appealing to families. And I don’t think you will need to invest in a huge number of sets. I found that it could easily take all of the available time to complete a course made using only the starter set. I would think that the starter set, plus one or two expansion sets would keep most families occupied for quite a while, even more so if you add your own LEGO Bricks into the mix. I’ll look at a few more of these over the next couple of days, and maybe some more, a little closer to release. Then, if you need more enemies, pick up some blind bag characters. I don’t think that these are really sets for display. They are designed for play. Something that a family can do together.
While all of the sets have fairly simplistic mechanics, it could be quite challenging to have a new module added in, with motorised features, triggered by a sensor or so forth. For the advanced software engineer, it has been confirmed that the Super Mario Brick communicates with the app using the Powered Up Protocols – while it cannot be accessed by the Powered Up App, I am sure it is only a matter of time before someone works out how to control a complex interactive MOC, based on Mario’s movements or color of plate he is scanning! Time will tell.
It is great that you are not required to use the App for game play, although it does enhance your LEGO Super Mario Experience. I have the same concerns here as I do with Powered Up: Will I still be able to use it on three years time? What level of support will be available for the Mario Brick, in the future? I expect that the App will be supported for as long as the sets are being sold. Maybe a year or two longer. But at this stage, the main goal would be to ensure that the Mario Brick can be upgraded with the firmware that recognises all of the sets available on the market, at the time of retirement. Perhaps then, some aspects could be added to the LEGO Life App – particularly the building instructions.
Personally, I have enjoyed playing with Lego Mario – and it is far more of a play experience than a building experience. As a build, I don’t consider that it is overly exciting, until you set out to construct your own level. This is where the work between Nintendo and LEGO really stands out: the LEGO spirit is strong in this set – I give it 4 out of 5 Arbitrary praise units. If you want to play LEGO Super Mario you, quite simply, NEED this set. It is the only way to get the Mario Brick, and the pipe to start the course! The functionality of the Mario Brick is remarkable, and certainly explains where a lot of the price of the starter set goes. I would suggest that if you have no interest in the Nintendo -Mario game world, however, it would probably be less appealing.
If you are not thinking about playing the game, or using the parts for MOCs, but instead are looking for a beautifully crafted, elegant display piece, this set, and most of the theme will disappoint you.
Adventures with Mario 71360, being the only place to get the Mario Brick, is essential to play the game. It will become available at the beginning of August, and will cost $AU79.99/ $NZ89.99 – 49,99 USD/EUR.
I hope you have enjoyed this review. I will have some further reviews of LEGO Super Mario sets coming up over the next week or two, as well as a Q&A interview with Jonathan Bennink – the Lead Digital Designer for LEGO Super Mario. Don’t forget to follow the Rambling Brick on Facebook or Twitter, so you don’t miss a post.
I was offered the 71360- Adventures with Mario by the LEGO Group AFOL Engagement team for review purposes. All opinions are my own. Provision of materials does not guarantee a favourable review.