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Lego's two-player Super Mario update adds Luigi and a massive Bowser airship

Hands-on: Lego Super Mario's Luigi update is a great model for interactive Lego sets, but not always a great game.

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This is several kits' worth of Super Mario bricks, but the Lego approach to Mario remains inspired.

Scott Stein/CNET

Lego Super Mario is getting a sequel this summer: The physical brick sets, which first arrived last year, are adding a Lego Luigi figure and a new collaborative two-player mode, along with new kits including a massive Bowser's Airship. The new kits are arriving Aug. 1, but I got to check a few expansions out, along with the new two-player Lego Luigi update. The interactive, brick-scanning, motion-sensitive figures can work together across Lego play areas now, which meant my kid and I could play around at the same time.

Last year's Lego Super Mario brick sets were the product of a four-year collaboration with Nintendo, and feature a brick-scanning Mario figure that can recognize specially-coded blocks and brick colors. By starting on a warp pipe and then finishing on a flag, a whole coin-collecting timed game can be tracked by the Mario figure. The kits can be mixed and matched: there are also separately-sold Mario power-up suits, and many sets feature hidden blocks that are meant to be bopped for extra points. It's pretty brilliant.

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Lego's character designs are fantastic.

Scott Stein/CNET

And yet, Lego Mario wasn't quite the gaming breakthrough I was first expecting. I first thought Lego Super Mario would be an interactive board game of sorts that could be redesigned in infinite ways, like a real-life Super Mario Maker. It is, but the game goals are pretty loose and open-ended, and players can "cheat" in a sense, bopping bricks out of order and flying around to different parts of each course. Where was the challenge, I wondered? But maybe that's not the point. The Mario kits are more about imagination and casual play, with some fun game bonuses thrown in. The kits are still a lot more play-focused than most completed Lego kits, which is something I'd love to see more of in other Lego projects.

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Lakitu appears in a Sky World expansion set.

Scott Stein/CNET

The ideas in last year's kits are expanded on in the new brick sets. The Adventures with Luigi Starter Course adds a green Luigi interactive figure to the mix. Both Mario and Luigi can Bluetooth sync to each other by pressing a back button, and then the two figures can bop around the same set at the same time, collecting coins in a co-op mode.

Two player mode doesn't require the new Luigi: two of the original Mario figures would work, too. Luigi and Mario greet each other with some little cute voice messages, and the new firmware update to the figures adds the compatibility for the new kits and enemies. (Updating the figure firmware means pairing with an app on your phone or tablet, which took a while with the early software build).

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Lego Luigi and Lego Mario, on Bowser's Airship.

Scott Stein/CNET

The Luigi starter course costs the same as the Mario starter course: $60 in the US, with the figure and enough bricks to build a basic little pipe-to-flagpole level with a few challenges, plus a pink Yoshi, Bone Goomba and Boom Boom figures. Lego's UK site lists the set for £50 and in Australia it's AU$90. Other expansion kits range in price and size, one of the largest being a new $100 Bowser Airship, which I also assembled and played with. 

The Bowser Airship took my younger son about a day and a half to build, and it looks spectacular. The ship opens up on hinges, and has hidden scannable parts that can be attacked like phases of a boss battle (a giant Bowser fist flies off a catapult attached to one of the masts).

The companion iOS and Android app has interactive instructions for the brick sets (the kits don't have paper instructions, oddly) and can track scores for paired Mario and Luigi figures, but Lego insists the kits are designed to be used away from screens. I find the Lego Super Mario sets' relationship to the apps a bit confusing: I used the apps to build the sets, and yet I felt like I wanted to play away from the app, and yet didn't always understand what each kit's game goal was.

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Updating firmware on the Super Mario figure. You may need to do this just once, thankfully.

Scott Stein/CNET

The two-player addition makes sense, in that two kids would play with a kit at the same time. My 8-year-old son and I put together a few kits and connected figures, and we had fun exploring the sets we made. I can't say the game rules made much sense, but it was fun to explore. Again, that seems more of the point. Treat the Super Mario Lego kits as clever and interactive toys, with the gameplay part more of a fun bonus. This isn't Super Mario Maker on the Switch, but it would be amazing if Lego made more brick sets with interactive ideas as clever as Super Mario.

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