When I was four-years-old my first exposure to video games was Super Mario Bros. on the NES. It was 1989 and I was addicted to cartoons; Inspector Gadget being my favourite. My dad was a techie at the time and was always bringing home toys and gadgets to show off.
When he brought the NES home, he showed me how I could control the ‘cartoon’, make the little man jump and get him to run across the screen. I was hooked and have been ever since.
Now, I have my own son. He’s nearly three so actually playing video games is a little out of his reach. He knows how to use YouTube and how to navigate an iPhone. He hangs up phone calls so he can get back to Booba or Peppa Pig and he knows how to find the colouring book app from the home screen.
Lately, he’s started playing Super Mario Run with varying degrees of success and he often asks me for “Maa ree yow.” Playing it together is a lot of fun but until he can actually properly play video games, the novelty wears off quickly.
That’s where LEGO Super Mario saves the day.
LEGO Super Mario
When it was first announced, I wasn’t sure exactly what LEGO Super Mario would be. Was it a game? Was it a LEGO set? From the videos and announcements from LEGO and Nintendo, the exact nature of LEGO Super Mario was difficult to determine. And it still is.
Even after chatting with LEGO’s Jonathon Bennink, I was confused. However, because Mario was the first game I ever played and because I’m still a big kid at heart, LEGO Super Mario was something I knew I wanted…no, needed. I also knew it would be something my son and I could share. Whatever it was, it was part Mario, part LEGO and guaranteed to keep him occupied.
When I finally got my hands on the LEGO Super Mario Starter Course and the Mario’s House & Yoshi expansion, I understood just exactly what this collaboration was. Basically, it’s the ultimate Toys to Life experience, the first part of which is building everything out of LEGO. Mario comes almost fully assembled, but you do get to put his overalls and hat on. The real fun comes in building your own levels and constructing the elements of Super Mario World.
Rather than use paper instructions, LEGO has cleverly put everything into the LEGO Super Mario app for smartphones. With the app, you connect your Mario via Bluetooth and follow instructions, rendered in 3D, to build each piece of your set. The app has an almost gamified feel to it with each step required to be completed before unlocking the next. This is a really clever feature that ensures players aren’t rushing ahead and missing sections of each set. Another great feature of the app are the videos shown after the construction of some elements to show players how they work.
The Starter Course includes a number of elements which allow players to construct their very own LEGO Super Mario level. Beginning with a Warp Pipe and ending with a Bowser Flag, how the level comes together is entirely up to each player. The app stops short of telling players how they should put the level together too, meaning creativity is left wide open. The modular nature of the sets means there are tonnes of different ways to put levels together and it’s incredibly easy to mix and match where each bit goes.
When you start adding in expansion sets, you get even more elements to play around with. I like to keep Mario’s House separate from the levels I build, but there’s nothing stopping you adding it in. Especially since his house hides a Power Star.
A huge part of the charm and fun of LEGO Super Mario comes from the tech built into the Mario-fig. The included LCD screen displays his eyes, mouth and info on his stomach. A speaker plays sounds and voice lines as well as classic Super Mario Bros. tunes while a gyroscope keeps track of Mario’s movement so he can respond to jumping, lying down and walking. A scanner at the bottom of the figure can also read colours and special barcodes included with the sets.
For example, if Mario is standing on blue LEGO, his stomach will display water. If he’s on green, it will display grass and if he’s on red it will display fire. By combining all of these elements, LEGO Super Mario really does feel like a game of Super Mario Bros. come to life. Instead of controlling a digital Mario with a D-Pad, you physically move him around, bounce on Goombas, swim, jump, collect coins and more. At 35 years old, I still have a blast playing with LEGO and LEGO Super Mario is on another level.
At nearly three years old, my son thinks LEGO Super Mario is the best thing since juice.
LEGO Super Mario and its app give players the ability to build their very own physical Super Mario Bros. levels and play with them, but that’s not all. When Mario is connected to the app and you scan the Warp Pipe to start your level, the app keeps track of all the coins and power-ups you collect, enemies you defeat and how long you took to complete it.
Sure, you can always make sure you finish and collect as many coins as you like but the whole point of LEGO Super Mario is to expand how we think about video games and how we think about play. My son can’t play Super Mario Bros. but he can play LEGO Super Mario. He gets the concepts and understands he needs to get from point A to point B. He knows he needs to jump on the baddies and collect items from the item box. Seeing it all play out on Mario’s stomach while he wahoos and the iconic sound effects play makes LEGO Super Mario something more than regular LEGO but less than a video game.
It’s somewhere in between. Still requiring imagination but giving playtime a boost through light and sound.
Having played video games for the majority of my life, I’ve been very keen to start playing them with my son. However, the waiting game sucks. Every time I try to get him to play, he loses interest almost immediately. But not with LEGO Super Mario.
It’s tactile. He can throw pieces around. He can lay Mario down and wait for him to go to sleep and he can get him to make noises by moving the fig around. Hell, often he just wants the Mario-fig to bounce around the house, making his own courses across the backs of couches and chairs, over tables and getting him to jump on the backs of his animal toys.
LEGO Super Mario expands beyond the barriers of what Mario is and gives players a brand-new experience to be shared with all ages.
I may not be able to get my son to play a single level of Super Mario Bros. but I can’t get him to stop playing LEGO Super Mario and that’s a huge win.
LEGO Super Mario Start Course and the Mario’s House and Yoshi expansion were provided by LEGO for this post.