The new LEGO Super Mario: The Mighty Bowser is everything it needs to be. It looks like Bowser, for one; the King of Koopa's proportions make him ideal for LEGO-ization. The final build is imposing and durable; you can move Bowser and play with him, without worrying that something will snap or fall off (see it at Amazon).
We Build the LEGO The Mighty Bowser Set
It is composed of 22 steps, and the set follows a similar build process to other LEGO humanoids of this scope and scale. First, you build the underlying skeleton: the mesh of LEGO Technic rods and pins, and the bricks that screw in and interlock with them. And then, you build over that skeleton with bricks and plates to flesh out its features and definition.
Sometimes on these advanced sets, LEGO fixates on building the skeleton almost to completion, before moving on to the second, more visually engaging phase. With Mighty Bowser, they wisely separate the build by body part. There is no backtracking to a prior part of the build; once you've built one section of Bowser, you move on to the next one.
First you build the torso to completion. Then the legs. Then the head. Then the spiked shell. And lastly, the arms. This piece-by-piece approach allows for small victories and feelings of accomplishments on the path to completion. The designers used balls and sockets to secure most of the limbs, which makes them sturdy and fully articulable.
But before all that, you build the platform that Bowser stands on. The platform is flanked by two collapsible towers, one of which hides a POW block. When you slide out a tiny drawer in the front of the build, you see a barcode. This makes Mighty Bowser compatible with the LEGO Super Mario playsets; if you own the starter set, you can use the LED Mario figure to stomp on this barcode, which will initiate a boss fight between you and Bowser. You can then stomp on Bowser multiple times, and eventually, you will "defeat" him, earn coins, and trigger the victory music.
This playset compatibility is a non-obtrusive element of the build—it is not required, by any means, to buy and enjoy this set. Think of this as a bonus feature, rather than a main function. Many people who buy and build this set won't own any of the playsets, and LEGO has intentionally de-emphasized this connection in favor of touting the build's other features. More on that later.
Another play element in this build is a fireball, which you can insert into Bowser's mouth. When you pull a tiny tab underneath the shell, Bowser's mouth opens, and launches the projectile downward—presumably, to where Mario is standing. Lastly, there's a lever function that allows Bowser to turn his head from left to right.
One thing that really stands out while building Bowser—and Bowser, were he real, would hate to hear this—is how cute he is. He has a rounded torso and chubby legs that are proportioned to the size of an infant's, and the final build is surprisingly huggable-looking for something made of plastic.
My favorite part of the build is Bowser's shell, owing to its cumulative effect. You build each plate of the shell individually, then you connect three of them into a straight chain. Next, you snap them into place at an angle to create a curve. Lastly, you place this curved piece on Bowser's back—three of them in all—to form the shell. The shell looks appropriately exaggerated and cartoonish, with chunky features and massive, single-piece spikes.
The Bowser set represents, in my view, a shift in theming and prioritization. When Nintendo and LEGO inked their partnership in 2020, they took a different path than one might have anticipated. Or rather, they took two paths.
The first path was an extensive, ongoing series of interactive sets that allowed builders to create their own Mario courses, complete with enemies, jumps, powerups, and booby traps. First, you bought the LEGO Super Mario starter set, which included an interactive LED Mario figure. Then, you bought the expansion sets, which gave you more design options and bad guys to stomp. Every enemy and obstacle had a barcode on it. When you touched the LED Mario against it, it made a corresponding noise and usually gave you a coin. You could sync the level you created to your phone, which tracked your progress and tallied the coins you earned on a single run.
This ongoing first path is an odd, somewhat dissonant pastiche of physical and digital play, requiring that the builder play pretend with physical toys, but for the sole purpose of earning digital coins on an app. It is fun, but it never quite gels. And based on both the marketing campaign and the simplicity of the play, it is targeted at an elementary school-aged audience. My son, who turns eight next month, loves these sets.
If the first path was childish, the second path was adult-oriented, almost to a fault. Nintendo and LEGO designed an NES console replica , complete with an 1980's era TV (see it at Amazon). When you turned a crank, an 8-bit Mario scrolled across the TV's screen. Another set was a massive Question Mark Block; when you opened it up, you saw four tableaus, each inspired by a different stage of Super Mario 64.
Both of these adult sets celebrated Nintendo. But they did so at a distance, celebrating Nintendo's history and legacy without fully engaging in the creative properties that built that legacy. They were conversation pieces that lacked a certain type of unbridled, childish joy. What LEGO needed was a reconciliation between the two paths—a more advanced, complex set that also centered around the characters and the immersive gameplay. They needed something made for the adult LEGO audience that also allowed us to engage and play with it instead of appraising it from afar.
Which brings us back to the Mighty Bowser set. It is as perfect a merging as one could have hoped for. Ideally, this would be the first in a series of 'third path' sets that will recreate the gameplay and characters from our childhoods. And not just for Mario either. What about Zelda? Or Metroid? Or Pokemon? The possibilities are endless.
LEGO Super Mario: The Mighty Bowser, Set #71411, retails for $269.99. It is composed of 2807 pieces and was designed by LEGO designer Carl Merriam. It is available now at the following retailers: