Is this the best Lego set of the year? We tried it to find out
Nintendo's Super Mario and Lego combine for the ultimate interactive Lego set
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Super Mario and his brother Luigi are video game icons. They’re the face of Nintendo and, if you have a Nintendo Switch, your kid is probably already obsessed with the princess-saving plumbers.
Last year Lego and Nintendo decided to take the brothers and their motley crew of characters off the screen and into the playroom, teaming up to release Super Mario-themed brick kits and expansion sets. This year they continue to sell out and garner serious accolades from the toy experts and trend forecasters we’ve spoken to. We decided that these highly interactive brick kits deserved a deeper look. Spoiler alert: We were impressed.
What is the Super Mario and Lego collaboration?
The Lego and Nintendo Super Mario collaboration is a video game course come to life. It’s a series of open-ended course constructor sets and characters that feature scanner-enabled, interactive pieces. Powered by Bluetooth, this set takes players right into Mario’s virtual world where characters can compete, collect coins, and where players can get creative to build their own courses.
To put it plainly, the Lego Super Mario collaboration combines the buildability of Legos with the mechanics of the Nintendo game; it essentially allows your kids to step into their favorite video game and makes them 3-D game designers.
What we tested
There are two starter sets to choose from and over a dozen expansion sets. It’s worth noting that it’s necessary to purchase either the Super Mario Adventures with Mario Starter Course or the Luigi Starter Course, to fully experience the interactive nature of this Lego line. Each starter course comes with its own Bluetooth-enabled, animated plumber, which is necessary to make the app and certain aspects of the build outs work.
We chose the Super Mario Adventures with Mario Starter Course over the Luigi set (sorry Luigi). The Mario set actually looked a bit more basic than the Luigi set, so we figured it would give us the most straightforward introduction to the line.
Choosing an expansion set proved more difficult. There are many to choose from and the line is an incredibly dynamic journey into the world of Super Mario. After some research, we had Lego send us the 2021 Toy of the Year-winning Bowser’s Castle Boss Battle set. We figured if it could beat out hundreds of other toys as the Best Construction Set of 2021, then it was worth some in-depth play.
As with all Lego kits, PDF directions can be found and downloaded on the Lego website, but Lego created a more interactive instruction experience with the downloadable app. The app gives click-through instructions that are super kid-friendly. Our son loved clicking through each step and enjoyed the little bursts of animated stars and encouraging sound effects when he would finish a part of the build.
These are minifigure-free sets. Instead kids build all the characters, except for Mario, with each including scanner chips in their builds, making for larger, super-sized characters for play and making for interactivity with the Mario piece.
If you’re getting this set for a gift, crack open the Mario character early and do a bit of setup. These sets are far too thrilling for a 7-year-old to exhibit self-control during Bluetooth enabling and app download. The app is pretty sizable, and had our son scaling the walls in anticipation as it took over five minutes to download on his well-loved Kindle Fire 7.
The starter set
The starter set is made for kids ages 6 and up, so our 7-year-old son was able to piece it together quickly, simply by looking at the front of the box while I was busy troubleshooting the app download. Since these kits don’t come with instruction booklets, I was grateful for how easy the starter set was to build.
Mario comes in his own little box in the starter set: Just add batteries (not included) and pants (included). Press Mario’s little “on” button and, Mama Mia, he’s ready to play. Mario becomes instantly interactive, making all sorts of fun sounds and comments, while expressing his delight, surprise, and more through LED lit-up eyes, mouth, and a small screen on his chest. As Mario hops from piece to piece, the mini LED screen that he wears lights up to show reactions to certain colors—red engulfs him in flames while water submerges him in water, for example—and scans chips on special pieces to collect coins and gain points.
While it’s not actually necessary to connect to Bluetooth to have fun, that’s when the magic of this play set comes to life, transforming the build into a fully interactive video game course. The app logs each “game” Mario plays, registers interactions with game pieces, and keeps score of coins collected and opponents defeated.
Bowser’s Castle Boss Battle
The buildout of Bowser’s Castle is a perfect blend of age-appropriateness and epic buildout. We can understand why it won at the 2021 Toy of the Year Awards; it’s one of the most interactive Lego sets for younger kids that we’ve ever experienced.
Filled with cool gears and moving parts, it’s a STEM dream come to life. We love the little mechanical parts that are meant to be moved and fully engaged with. Special play features allow Mario to interact with the course and defeat his enemies, by spinning, bashing, and knocking against components of the build out. This set is best enjoyed when it’s constantly moving.
The special scanner chips take the fun to new heights and add a video game-style dynamic to the set. They not only allow the pieces to connect with the app, they give sound effects to pieces, and interactivity to the Mario character. The chips assign strength-levels to each character, and give sound effects throughout, like a musical turnstile, a growling Bowser, and a cackling Boo. It’s silly, fun, entertaining, and exciting.
The expansion set is for kids ages 8 and older, but our 7-year-old son was able to build it, largely unassisted, due to ease of the building instructions on the app. We appreciated that, for such a large set (1,010 pieces), our child could complete most of the buildout independently. He got enormous gratification out of doing it on his own.
What we liked
Honestly? Where do we start?
It facilitates interactive play
One of the things that’s so fun about these sets is the longevity of play. I’m sure I’m not the only parent who has an ever-growing shrine of Lego sets that, once built, aren’t to be touched. That can be very limiting where play is concerned. These sets, however, were made to be pulled apart. In fact, the app encourages you to do so.
It encourages creativity
While you do start out following the step-by-step directions, these are meant to be open-ended, ever-moving courses. There are directions and suggestions to stoke creativity, but players are encouraged to rebuild the courses in configurations they’ve conceived of themselves for Mario to conquer. Essentially, they are stepping into a video game course they can create and configure with their bare hands.
Social play is a major aspect
I won’t say it’s screen-free, because it’s not, but it’s interactive in a way that zoning out on a device isn’t. It takes the blinders off and inspires collaboration and discussion and a new level of creativity and critical thought.
It was really fun for us to do together, encouraging a level of social play that we don’t usually experience with our Lego sets—let alone video games. I imagine it will only get more fun with more sets.
What we didn’t like
There was very little we didn't like about these sets, but one thing felt like a glaring misstep.
There's no Nintendo Switch presence
This seems unbelievable, but there isn’t a Lego Mario app on the Nintendo Switch. Considering this set is based on a Nintendo game, this is something I, personally, struggle to get past!
The app, which we downloaded on my iPhone 11 and our son’s Kindle Fire 7, seems perfectly suited to the Switch—both for paging through directions, and for integrated game play. While the app worked well on our phone, it was sluggish and stalled out on our Kindle (which is, admittedly, pretty old and probably ready for an upgrade). Knowing that Super Mario Maker 2 has been discontinued, maybe there is a plan to have a new, upgraded version with Lego integration? A mom can hope!
Should you buy a Super Mario Lego set?
Unequivocally: Yes! There’s a pretty good chance that your child likes Legos or video games. If they like either, they’ll love these sets. If they like both, they’re going to go crazy for them.
This is a really awesome toy that puts a new spin on two classics. It’s interactive, it’s innovative, it’s social and it takes the video game blinders off to stoke some serious creativity. It also gets kids thinking about video game design in a whole new way.
If you’re ready to level-up with your gift giving, get these sets on Santa’s list. You won’t regret it.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.