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Sunday, July 14, 2024

We Build the LEGO: Nintendo Entertainment System and it Contains a Hidden Surprise

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LEGO has subtly rebranded itself over the past decade. It is not only for children; it is also for adult hobbyists who enjoy the intricacy of multi-thousand piece sets and have the disposable income to afford them. The new LEGO Nintendo Entertainment System is a perfect access point for this growing demographic, owing to Nintendo's – and Mario's – ubiquity.When completed, the LEGO Nintendo Entertainment System consists of the following:

  • A slightly scaled-down replica of the original, 8-bit Nintendo console, complete with a top door that flips up and down, AC adaptor ports, and A/V ports.
  • A buildable game cartridge of Super Mario Bros (1985), which is insertable into the NES.
  • A 1:1 scaled replica of an NES controller, which plugs into the player ports on the front of the console.
  • An 80s-style television and stand.

We Build the LEGO: Nintendo Entertainment SystemThe latter has a crank on its side. Turn the crank, and a Super Mario Bros. level, made entirely out of LEGO, will scroll across the television's 'screen.' The television, not including its buildable stand, is approximately eight inches tall and nine inches wide. The entire set, including the console, easily fits on a shelf – or, if you're feeling cheeky, in the media cabinet under your actual television.

The LEGO Nintendo Entertainment System is 2646 pieces. Its building instructions are spread across two instruction manuals: one for the NES console, controller, and cartridge; and another for the TV, its rotating display, and stand.First, you build the NES console. Aside from a cool secret inside the build (more on that at the end of this article), it is a fairly straightforward experience – a methodical bottom-to-top laying of bricks to create the console's signature shape. I was intrigued by a mechanism in the build which allows you to insert a cartridge into the LEGO console and push it down, just like you would do with an actual NES. There's a neat trick to this, involving interlocking rods and pins, that creates a sliding catch-and-release.

The controller and the cartridge builds are straightforward and brief; their appeal is in seeing familiar objects from your childhood slowly take shape. But construction-wise, they're a lull before the exciting second half of the set–the television and its side scrolling Mario level.It's here that the LEGO designers, free from paying homage to another company's design, create something ambitious and wholly unique. The TV is like a thing out of time–from its wood paneling appearance to its clicking channel dial to its raisable antenna, it looks like every 80's television we ever had – the sort of thing that would be in the MoMA as an example of a time period's aesthetic.

As for the scrolling Mario level inside the TV, its construction is both creative and compact. The scenery is actually a mosaic, which uses a combination of 1×1 tiles and plates to create the illusion of sky, bushes, clouds, and platforms. Printed tiles of Goombas, Koopa Shells, Coins, Question Mark Blocks, and Power-Up Items are overlaid on top of that.The mosaic is built on top of a long conveyor belt, which is looped around a spindle and mounted inside the TV. When you turn the crank, it turns gears, which rotates the display. The Mario avatar is mounted on a plastic stick, which is pressed against the tiles. It "jumps" in response to running over strategically placed LEGO studs. That both of these effects were accomplished with a single crank and gearbox is marvelous ingenuity.

The main reason why magicians never tell their secrets is because the solution is never as compelling as the illusion; it is often mundane to the point of feeling cheap. This LEGO set conjures the opposite effect. Knowing how it works and building it, firsthand, makes it even more impressive. You marvel at the resourcefulness. Plastic, interlocking bricks can create a simple, elegant machine when placed in the right order.One last detail deserves mention: the aforementioned secret inside the console.

LEGO is as much about the process of building as the final result. The designers underline this philosophy by hiding Easter Eggs inside the build – tiny aesthetic details that serve no practical purpose, other than to entertain the builder and let them in on something exclusive. And once the set is finished, the builder can choose whether or not to reveal the detail; the average person would never know it was there.

The LEGO Nintendo Entertainment System has a doozy of an Easter Egg hidden inside its console. Often, LEGO markets these Easter Eggs as a selling point in their press releases, but not this time. It caught me completely off guard.

If, like me, you see the building process as a type of narrative storytelling, consider this a spoiler warning, and skip over the next two paragraphs.

There is hollow space inside the console, and the developers used it to build a diorama of World 1-2 from Super Mario Bros (1985). You see the up/down lifts. You see the exit pipe you jump over to reach the first Warp Zone. And you see the Warp Zone itself, with the three pipes that lead to Worlds 2, 3, and 4.The LEGO Nintendo Entertainment System has a doozy of an Easter Egg hidden inside its console.

It is a minimalistic rendering; I didn't know exactly what I was building until I had completed it. But when it suddenly clicked, a wave of nostalgia washed over me. It was 1989. I was six, and my mom, who had been playing with the NES after I went to bed, told me about the Warp Zone she had discovered in the middle of the night. After finishing breakfast, I turned on the NES to see it for myself.

It's these bursts of childhood recognition that make the LEGO Nintendo Entertainment System an exceptional build. Like Nintendo, LEGO knows the power of nostalgia. Just as every generation rediscovers Mario, every generation rediscovers LEGO; every brick since 1958 fits with every brick today, creating a cross-generational, shared experience. It is appropriate that this set, this joyful tribute to 1980's childhood, will allow many adults to rediscover that part of themselves, and incorporate LEGO into their adult lives.

The LEGO Nintendo Entertainment System, Set #71374, was created by LEGO designers Daire McCabe, Pablo Gonzalez, and Leon Pijnenburg. It retails for $229.99. It will be available at brick-and-mortar LEGO stores and the LEGO online store on August 1.

Kevin Wong is a LEGO aficionado. Talk about your favorite sets with him on Twitter at @kevinjameswong.

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