Today LEGO has released the full details about the first wave of official LEGO Mario sets, including the pricing, availability and launch dates.

As a very unique new theme that blends electronics and more traditional LEGO bricks to create a play experience that somewhat mimics what you can do in the games, LEGO Mario stands unique in the hundreds of sets across dozens of themes that it offers.

To find out more about this theme and how it came together, we interviewed Jonathan Bennink (remotely, of course) who is the Design Manager in Creative Play Lab at the LEGO Group.

Bennink is the lead designer for LEGO Mario, who you can see showing off the products he helped create in the video below.

There’s a lot more than meets the eye here. For example, when the partnership between LEGO and Nintendo was announced, we theorised that NFC would be the technology powering everything here, much like it did for LEGO Dimensions. That turns out not to be the case, so see below for more.

Hypertext: When adapting Mario for LEGO was the incorporated electronics side of things a feature from the start or something that was added later down the line?

Jonathan Bennink: We decided early on to incorporate some sort of technology into the product line, as this was a way to leverage what Nintendo is good at: creating unique and seamless digital interactivity. We tried multiple concepts, although an early prototype of an interactive Mario blew us all away. We found there were many possibilities with the LEGO Mario prototype, as it offered intuitive digital-physical play, enhanced role and friend play, and stimulated creativity.

Hypertext: What technical specifications can you provide about the Mario figure, which seems to house much of the electronics? 

JB: Mario has LCD displays in his eyes, mouth and belly screen. He also houses a speaker, allowing him to play music, sound effects and talk to you at the same time. The speaker is an especially crucial component that makes Mario come alive, bringing the iconic sound-scapes of Mario games to the LEGO play experience. As shown in the video, Mario also features an optical sensor beneath his feet that reads a selection of the LEGO colour palette and specially-decorated LEGO tiles called action bricks. The colour barcodes printed on these tiles allow Mario to track his position through each level as well as find coins at the start and finish, when defeating a ‘Goomba’, grabbing an item from the ?-block or when he is struggling to stay on a platform.

LEGO Mario is powered by 2 x AAA batteries, that will last for around 20 hours of play.

Hypertext: For this theme were any lessons or ideas from previous themes used? Older themes such as Nexo Knights, LEGO Dimensions and more similarly use their own technologies.

JB: Great question! At the LEGO Group, we always aim to build on previous projects while also pushing the boundaries of play. Both Nexo Knights and LEGO Dimensions have been an inspiration in the creation of this new line in terms of how we use technology intuitively in a LEGO set and avoid creating technology for technology’s sake. Many of the same people who worked on those projects now work on LEGO Super Mario. The link between LEGO play and video games creates huge excitement for the kids and with LEGO Super Mario we pushed the technology a bit further. For instance, where LEGO Dimensions brought toys to life, LEGO Super Mario brings life to toys.

Rather than using your LEGO sets as a controller for the game, here kids experience Mario and what he can do inside the LEGO set itself. Additionally, with this new line we aim to further leverage what makes LEGO play unique: the ability to build and rebuild anything you want using your imagination. With LEGO Super Mario you can build and rebuild your own levels, turning builders both young and old into game designers in their own right.

Hypertext: The back of the Mario figure features a Bluetooth button. What Bluetooth functionality can we expect?

JB: Well spotted! At this point, however, I can’t answer this question, but stay tuned for updates!

The Starter Course set which will retail for $59.99 / €59.99 (~R1 00 / ~R1 196) and will release on 1st August.

Hypertext: In Japan there are interactive 3D board games (see examples for Donkey Kong and Mario) whose gameplay reminds of the LEGO Mario sets. Were these at all a part of the inspiration for the sets? If not, what was used as inspiration?

JB: Those are some cool products! They were however not the inspiration for this line.

It is difficult to point to a certain product or game that served as inspiration, other than the classic Mario games and classic LEGO play of building anything you want. Super Mario Maker has also been some inspiration, although again, LEGO Super Mario is very different from a video game or a regular LEGO set. We take inspiration from games and other toys, but since this is a new way to play, we had to write the play book ourselves.

Hypertext: Can we expect a Luigi figure in the future?

JB: Right now, we are focused on LEGO Mario and I can’t disclose anything on potential future products.

Hypertext: What’s your favourite Mario game?

JB: Easy: Mario 64! It arguably defined the genre of the 3D platform and as a teenager I loved every single minute of it. I got all the stars and I’ll never forget the joy I felt when I discovered the combinations of jumps you’re able to do.