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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The Best LEGO Nintendo Sets in 2023

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Over the past two years, we've built, photographed, and written about multiple LEGO Nintendo sets. And at the risk of beating the drum until it has no more sound in it, let us reiterate: the potential of this creative partnership is limitless. Because Nintendo is not just Mario. It is Zelda. It is Metroid. It is Kirby. It is Pokemon. And the wave of LEGO Nintendo sets bodes well for the future.

Some of these LEGO sets are aimed at adults. Others are great LEGO sets for kids, although increasingly, there's a generational overlap. The age on the LEGO box is more indicative of target audience than maturity; it would be easy to imagine an adult purchasing a simpler set as a desk ornament or display piece, if it hits his or her nostalgia buttons just right.

Here are the 10 best LEGO Nintendo sets in 2023, currently available for purchase. You can also check out our guide to the best LEGO deals right now for the latest discounts.

10. Adventures with Mario Starter Course

LEGO Super Mario Adventures Starter CourseLEGOLEGO Super Mario Adventures Starter Course Note: A starter set is required for the expansion sets to work.20% off $59.99$47.99

  • Set: #71360
  • Age Range: 6+
  • Piece Count: 231
  • Dimensions: ‎3.5 high, 12.5 in. wide, x 10.3 in. deep
  • Price: $59.99

The LEGO Super Mario playsets allow you to build your own Mario courses. You use an LED Mario figurine to scan barcodes on enemies and obstacles, which creates audio feedback like music and classic Mario sounds. The coins you collect are tallied in an app, which syncs to Mario and documents your progress.

This is the starter set that comes with the Mario LED figure; all the other expansion sets will not "work" without it. It also comes with other essentials: a pipe, several Grassland platforms, a flagpole, and even a mini-fortress with a Bowser, Jr. figure.

9. Goomba’s Shoe Expansion Set

LEGO Super Mario Goomba’s Shoe Expansion SetLEGO Super Mario Goomba’s Shoe Expansion Set $6.99

  • Set: #71404
  • Age Range: 6+
  • Piece Count: 76
  • Dimensions: 1.5 in. (5 cm) high, 2 in. (6 cm) long, 2 in. (6 cm) wide
  • Price: $9.99

This is a trifle compared to the other sets, but for anyone who grew up on Super Mario Bros 3, it's a must-have. The Kuribo's Shoe was Mario's greatest powerup in that game. It allowed him to walk over Munchers and stomp on Spinys. Unfortunately, the Shoe only appeared in one level, and then it was gone, never to be seen again. Until now.

8. Peach’s Castle Expansion Set

LEGO Super Mario Peach’s Castle Expansion SetLEGO Super Mario Peach’s Castle Expansion Set $129.95

  • Set: #71408
  • Age Range: 8+
  • Piece Count: 1216
  • Dimensions: 11.5 in. (30 cm) high, 14 in. (36 cm) wide, 18.5 in. (48cm)
  • Price: $129.99

Peach's Castle is such a signature, iconic structure, dating all the way back to Super Mario 64, that building it is a parade of nostalgia, especially the stained glass in the center tower. One has to wonder if LEGO plans on building a bigger, more elaborate version of the castle in the years to come.

7. Luigi’s Mansion Haunt-and-Seek Expansion Set

LEGO Super Mario Luigi’s Mansion Haunt-and-Seek Expansion SetLEGO Super Mario Luigi’s Mansion Haunt-and-Seek Expansion Set $125.00

  • Set: #71401
  • Age Range: 8+
  • Piece Count: 877
  • Dimensions: 5.5 in. (15 cm) high, 17.5 in. (44 cm) wide, 14 in. (36 cm) deep
  • Price: $79.99

This is the only Luigi's Mansion set that comes with a massive King Boo—complete with a crown and purple eyes. It also has trick floors, a rotating hallway, and a Toad imprisoned in a painting—everything you need to outfit a haunted house.

6. Reznor Knockdown Expansion Set

LEGO Super Mario Reznor Knockdown Expansion SetLEGO Super Mario Reznor Knockdown Expansion Set 31% off $69.99$48.00

  • Set: #71390
  • Age Range: 8+
  • Piece Count: 862
  • Dimensions: 10 in. (25 cm) high, 22 in. (56 cm) wide, 11.5 in. (30 cm) deep
  • Price: $55.99

Like some of the earlier LEGO Mario playsets, the Reznor set feels a bit disjointed, but at least it feels that way on purpose; the original boss fight from Super Mario World was also a rickety, precarious proposition. The LEGO Reznors are stout, stubby, and cute—a perfect recreation of their video game counterparts.

5. Sonic the Hedgehog – Green Hill Zone

Sonic the Hedgehog Green Hill Zone LEGO SetLEGOSonic the Hedgehog Green Hill Zone LEGO Set $69.99

  • Set: #21331
  • Age Range: 18+
  • Piece Count: 1125
  • Dimensions: 7 in. (17 cm) high, 14 in. (36 cm) wide and 2.5 in. (6 cm) deep
  • Price: $79.99

It's not Nintendo, strictly speaking? But we're allowing it because of our love for Sonic games. Once bitter rivals, Sonic and Mario are now close collaborators, and Sega is a mainstay on Nintendo's online service. We covered this Sonic the Hedgehog set at the time of its release, and it's a lovely little diorama of Green Hill Zone 1, complete with a loop and a smirking, cocky Sonic minifigure. It's perfect for an adult beginner builder, who might want to test the waters on a new hobby before going all-in.

4. Bowser's Airship Expansion

LEGO Super Mario Bowser’s Airship Expansion SetClip $10 CouponLEGO Super Mario Bowser’s Airship Expansion Set 30% off $99.99$69.99

  • Set: #71391
  • Age Range: 8+
  • Piece Count: 1152
  • Dimensions: 12 in. (30 cm) high, 13.5 in. (35 cm) long, 7.5 in. (19 cm) wide
  • Price: $99.99

Bowser's classic airship comes with Kamek and lots of Bowser iconography on its fore, aft, and windows. It folds out in a way that reveals even more details. When Mario conquers the ship and takes the wheel, you hear the Sky World music from Super Mario Bros 3. It's part of a larger playset, but you could build it as a standalone, because the design is complete-looking, coherent, and cool.

3. Super Mario 64 Question Mark Block

LEGO Super Mario 64 Question Mark BlockLEGO Super Mario 64 Question Mark Block $199.99

  • Set: #71395
  • Age Range: 18+
  • Piece Count: 2064
  • Dimensions: 7 in. (18cm) high, wide, deep
  • Price: $199.99

On the outside, it's a classic Question Mark Block. On the inside, it's four tableaus of famous Super Mario 64 scenes. King Bob-omb and Peach's Castle are wonderful demonstrations of minimalism, and how LEGO uses a small number of bricks to create a big impression.

2. Nintendo Entertainment System

LEGO Nintendo Entertainment SystemLEGO Nintendo Entertainment System $269.95

  • Set: #71374
  • Age Range: 18+
  • Piece Count: 2646
  • Dimensions: Television – 8” (22.5cm) high, 9” (23.5cm) wide, 6” (16cm) deep
  • Price: $269.99

This is the most "adult" build on this list. You build a replica of a Nintendo Entertainment System, complete with a controller and a cartridge (blowing optional). But the showstopper is an '80s style TV, where you turn a crank and a tiny 8-bit Mario moves across the screen. It's a feat of innovation that's even more impressive when you build it and discover how it works.

1. The Mighty Bowser

LEGO Super Mario The Might BowserLEGO Super Mario The Might Bowser $269.95

  • Set: #71411
  • Age Range: 7+
  • Piece Count: 2807
  • Dimensions: 12.5 in. (32 cm) high, 16 in. (41 cm) wide, 11 in. (28 cm) deep
  • Price: $269.99

The Mighty Bowser is the finest Nintendo set that LEGO has designed thus far—a massive, cartoonish, disarmingly adorable build of Mario's ultimate bad guy. It's very imposing in person—bigger than you think—and a spring loaded mechanic allows him to "breathe fire."

This final set is technically an expansion playset, but it is marketed as a standalone set. It demonstrates what I hope to be a new LEGO Nintendo approach for 2023 and beyond: a design ethos that does not strictly delineate a children's set from an adult set.

LEGO has already begun moving in this direction. The early, child-oriented LEGO Super Mario playsets were very piecemeal and airy—isolated, singular elements and simple, flat plates that connected the elements together. The builds were too rudimentary, even for children's builds—they felt like LEGO sets designed for children who don't like LEGO.

Today, the LEGO Super Mario sets are more substantial and detail-laden, even though they still have the barcodes that designate them as expansion playsets. The best of these—sets like the Bowser's Airship and The Mighty Bowser—make the mobile gameplay a secondary concern to how it looks on display, and how fun and engaging it is to build. And that is where the emphasis should always be. Because whether it's for kids or adults, the joy comes from the build itself; the final product is the outgrowth of that.

There's a great LEGO documentary on Netflix; it's part of a running series called "The Toys That Made Us," and I would recommend it to anyone. My biggest takeaway from the film is that LEGO has tried, many times, to escape or broaden its appeal by creating other toys or by reinventing the bricks somehow—by overlaying them with augmented reality, or repurposing them in some odd, niche fashion. But it never turns out well or lasts, and LEGO keeps returning to the thing that people love most.

Those initial Mario playsets were a step too far and emphasized play over build. And now that LEGO is creating sets that are more in line with their design and company strengths, the future looks bright.

Also be sure to check out our lists of the best Star Wars LEGO sets and best Harry Potter LEGO sets. And if you're more into superheroes, you can take a look at the best Marvel LEGO sets as well.

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