According to Jonathan Bennick, digital design lead on Super Mario at Lego, that was a deliberate move following a lot of kid-testing.
“In order for you to appreciate what Mario does, you need to know how he walks, how he jumps, how do you use the functions,” he said.
“We tried putting this on paper and then having arrows pointing towards how you should move Mario, but [millennials] seem to be the last generation that understands arrows. Kids gloss over the building instructions that are not just saying ‘put a brick here’; they think everything that has arrows and explanations is optional.”
Unlike most Lego sets, where builders are told how to construct a whole level, the Lego Mario app instructs on how to build each element, such as a platform or a tree. There are interactive 3D models that show you how things should look as you go, as well as five-second videos showing how Mario interacts with the more complicated elements.
The arrangement of the level is entirely up to players, and is very much for play rather than display. Small sections would work for an adult fan of Lego’s display case, but every step of the way this is clearly designed with delight and adventure first.
“The magic of this project is that there is no way to build it right,” Bennick said.
But although these are sets primarily for kids, they carry high prices considering the number of blocks included. The Lego Mario starter set will cost $90, with the expansions announced so far falling between $30 and $150. There will also be additional power-up costumes for Mario at $13, and character blind bags at $6.
Ordinarily I’d gauge a $100 set including 1000 pieces (i.e. an average of 10 cents per piece) as good value, but that might not apply here since the playsets have so many large, new and unique pieces, as well as lots of printed tiles (there are no stickers to be found here, which is worth a lot in my book).
Mario’s foot sensor can detect unique elements thanks to tiny barcodes (for example on an enemy’s head), but he can also tell the difference between regular red, yellow, green and blue Lego bricks, so parents may be able to expand on the cheap by just buying standard bricks to help the levels along.
The collection may get extra expensive for parents with more than one child, because only one person can play with the levels at a time until a Luigi or other character is released with Mario’s smarts. Kids can build levels for each other or together, but there’s no way to have a proper competitive mode yet. Bennick expressed the hope that this might help kids learn to share.
I spent the weekend building the starter set and three expansions, which involved everything from cloud platforms and boss battles to hidden treasure and a moving mine car
trapped between two piranha plants (Mario gets extra coins if he can balance the sliding car and avoid hitting either plant).
While I originally cursed the lack of displayability, eventually I got lost in actually playing physical Super Mario Maker, tried unsuccessfully to convince my wife to test out my levels, and vowed to order every single one of the additional sets, characters and costumes.
Alice is a freelance journalist, producer and presenter.