Of all the passions I had when I was a kid, only a handful of them have truly endured to adulthood. Games, punk music, and Lego all share that honor. I’m still a huge Lego nerd, and pump an alarming amount of my disposable income into sets yearly – and so that hopefully signals that it means something when I say I think the new Lego Super Mario 64 ? Block is one of the coolest sets I’ve ever built.
Now, to be clear… I’m totally the target audience. I was seven years old when Super Mario 64 was released; nostalgia for that game runs through my veins. Its level layouts are seared into my soul. I’m also what the community calls an ‘AFOL’ – an ‘Adult Fan of Lego’. So on the venn diagram of people this set might be aimed at, I’m slap bang in the middle. I tell you this so that you can either add credence or a pinch of salt to my verdict, depending on your inclination.
Anyway – from the moment you open up the instruction booklet, Lego knows exactly who this set is for. Like the Lego NES that released last year, this is different from the digitally-augmented kid-friendly playset adventures of Lego Mario & Luigi – it is first and foremost aimed at adults. That’s why it comes in a black box (this is how Lego now designates ‘adult’ sets, which were formerly called ‘Creator Expert’) and with a properly-bound instruction book that also includes a message from the designers and a glorious photo of them dressed in nineties clothes, playing Mario 64 on original hardware.
That photo is an easter egg of a sort, but there’s plenty more besides. The set itself is filled with tiny references to Mario 64 – and anyone who is remotely familiar with the game will have several moments of glee as they put it together and realize what exactly it is they’re building.
If you don’t know anything about this set, here’s the lowdown: it’s a classic Mario series question mark block (which ironically didn’t appear at all in Mario 64, something the instruction booklet acknowledges), but it holds secrets. Inside the block, and folded out with a few tugs here and there, are dioramas of three iconic Super Mario 64 scenes: Bob-omb Battlefield, Cool Cool Mountain, Lethal Lava Land, and of course Peach’s Castle.
It’s a fun build, though it has several steps that I thought were surprisingly complex for a licensed Lego set, even one aimed at adults. That leads to magic, though – the first time you fold the stages into the block and then unfurl them to see the mechanism you’ve built in action is a truly magical moment. The block itself is a little smaller than I’d imagined, but it’s also densely-packed with stuff and totally solid. I don’t feel like it has to be particularly tenderly handled at all, at least by Lego standards.
The bottom of the block is actually hollow, but this seems deliberate – it saves wasting pieces on a side you won’t see, but is also ample deterrent to stop people from holding it above their head and punching it Mario-style… which wouldn’t be wise, given the amount of moving parts there are for the mechanisms. No matter how sturdy it is.
Anyway, it’s an absolutely lovely set, and while last year’s NES was cool, this feels like exactly the sort of set fans were crying out for when they were disappointed that the Lego Mario series was made up of minimalist, modular play sets. It’s subverted expectations by being made up of micro-dioramas, but it’s a fabulous build nevertheless.
It’s one of my favourite Lego sets of the year – of recent memory, in fact. And the more Lego does with Mario, the more my mind begins to race with potential gaming crossover possibilities – for the officially announced upcoming Sonic set to the ever-present promise of Zelda or another Nintendom franchise getting the Lego treatment.
As far as this set goes, the best thing about it, of course, are the Easter Eggs that fans can enjoy when building the set and admire once it’s built. Here’s some of my favourite little features and Easter Eggs summarized – but not all of them, to preserve surprises…
Lovely Level Dioramas
The level dioramas of Mario 64’s first, fourth, and seventh courses are just absolutely brilliant. If you strongly remember these designs, you’ll instantly spot memorable pieces of design in this micro-format. There’s elements like King Bob-omb’s summit, the tree stumps you stomp for a star, the Bowser sliding puzzle over Lava, Chain Chomp’s prison, and the poor Snowman head without a body. All these and more are here, lovingly recreated.
In some cases, you actually build in ‘temporary’ coverings, leaving hidden detail inside. You can slide off the front of Peach’s Castle, for instance, revealing a minimalist facsimile of the inside, complete with the paintings of the three other levels that Mario would jump into and the Sun Mural from the main hall – which actually serves a dual purpose in this set. Similarly, you can pull out a piece of the Cool, Cool Mountain stage to find a tiny recreation of the slide area that makes up such a huge part of that level.
Much of the detail of these dioramas is made up of single 1×1 Lego pieces – so they are truly small in scale. What’s astonishing is that each stage is instantly recognizable despite this. It’s Lego at its best.
Speaking of loving recreations, we have to talk about the mini-scale versions of characters included. There’s Mario (who totals three pieces, one of them printed), Peach (five pieces), King Bob-omb (six pieces), Big Bully (three pieces), and others. Again, what’s brilliant is that these little figures are instantly recognizable, even if it is sort of laughable that Peach’s first Lego figure is this little thing rather than a larger-scale figure.
My favourite of these, by the way, is Yoshi. He’s barely in Mario 64, of course, but he’s hiding on the roof of the Castle, which can only be reached after 100%ing the rest of the game. He’s hidden behind the castle here, too, in exactly the same spot. This is the attention to detail that makes me love this set so much.
Bowser & Mario’s final showdown
One character was missing from that character list, wasn’t it? Bowser. He’s in the set, with the most intricate of the character figurines, which makes sense given his size in Mario 64. He doesn’t actually have a place in the stages featured, however – so he’s been given his very own little hiding spot.
You can slide up a compartment on the face of one of the question mark symbols to reveal Bowser. You can remove him, and then pressing down on his platform makes the bottom half of that question mark pop open… revealing a tiny-scale recreation of the Bowser boss arenas. There’s even a spot for Lego Mario to stand, a hook to put Bowser’s tail on, and a rotating mechanism so you can recreate Mario tossing his nemesis to his doom. So long, big Bowser!
Lego Mario Compatibility
What’s truly bonkers about this set is that it has all of this – and yet is still compatible with Lego Mario himself, that oversized Lego figure packed with technology for reading bricks and the like. Remember I said that the sun mural in the castle foyer had a dual purpose? If you scan it with Lego Mario or Luigi, it kicks off a special mini-game where you can then search around the set for Power Stars, just like in Mario 64.
This feature hasn’t been available pre-release – Lego Mario & Luigi need a firmware update before it’ll work – but there are ten stars total to find, described in the instruction manual with cryptic clues. Moving Lego Mario to different bits of the course based on these clues will have him ‘find’ the star. It’s a cool bonus for those who have become truly invested in the Lego Mario sets.
The Lego Super Mario 64 Question Mark Block set is available from the offiical Lego store from tomorrow. A copy of the set was provided by Lego for the purposes of this review.