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Nintendo LEGO NES review: Lockdown s premium time-waster is back in stock and…

Nintendo LEGO NES review: Lockdown‘s premium time-waster is back in stock and 15% off for Black Friday

A Nintendo and LEGO hook-up, for those of a certain age, is basically childhood in a box. And while the Lego Super Mario playsets look fun for the kiddies, it was the 18-rated (for complexity) LEGO Nintendo Entertainment System 8-bit system, immortalised in era-consistent little blocks, that grabbed our immediate attention.

Released earlier this year but out of stock for the longest time, this should be back on your time-wasting agenda now that we’re in never-ending Lockdown, the PS5 and Xbox Series X are sold out everywhere, and Black Friday weekend is here.

The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), released in Japan in 1983 but not hitting UK shores till 1987 (imagine a four-year territory delay for a console in this day and age), was many people’s (ie my) first games console, and its bulky yet iconic VHS-style design holds a special place in our hearts.

But can its LEGO interpretation build on the success of Nintendo‘s NES Mini and be just as well remembered?

Nintendo LEGO NES review: What’s in the box?

The box your LEGO NES is delivered in is, there’s no getting around it, monstrous – for context, we bought a free-standing fan this summer for the heatwave and it was bigger than that.

At 2,646 pieces – almost double that of the Kessel Run Millennium Falcon we built – this is a major undertaking, and the variety of different things you’ll be making, and how this goes way beyond bricks, plates, tiles and studs, can be almost overwhelming.

nintendo, lego, review, lockdown

The set is also divided into two clearly separate builds: the TV, TV stand and the Mario game playing on the TV (more on that later); then the console, controller and game cart in a separate sub-box. Although it doesn’t tell you to, do open the latter first as it has the instructions, and a couple of little bits for the TV build in there that you need.

There are 20 stages to the two builds (1-8 the console, 9-20 the TV), but some stages have multiple bags, while other stages are small and take no time. Stage 20, in particular, is enormous, so get the drinks and nibbles in for that one – and don’t use them as any guidance for time.

Nintendo LEGO NES review: How long does it take to build?

While there have been some takes online suggesting around 16 hours for completion of the entire set, at roughly 8 a piece, we found the total was right, but the ratio was different.

The TV set, which is the much trickier bit, actually took us around 6 hours over the course of a day and a half; the console, which is more basic but dense, ended up around 8 hours.

nintendo, lego, review, lockdown

While it looks initially complex, LEGO being LEGO means it’s simplified as far as it possibly can be; if there are variations, there’s always a reason. Follow the stages, be organised and plan, and it’s actually surprisingly simple – if we ever noticed something wrong, it was because we’d Zenned out and stopped paying attention to the instructions. This is not the LEGO for that.

Nintendo LEGO NES review: How to build the TV set

As alluded to above, this isn’t just an aesthetically pleasing static TV set, it actually plays out a part-level of Super Mario Bros on its screen in such a joyously mechanical, old-school way that it’s hard not to smile every time you do it.

Using a side winch, much like a music box, you can move a lightly three-dimensional vertical slice of the Mushroom Kingdom endlessly across the screen, with Mario leaping from bricks to floating coins as you do (alas no short accompanying sound loop from the speaker – maybe next year).

nintendo, lego, review, lockdown

The early stages of the project are building up the rather unsexy internal machinery that will allow this all to work, and it’s a bit more like a LEGO Technics build, so it can take quite a while for any essence of TV to appear.

But when it does, the retro touches are great – curved CRT inner screen with side speaker, working channel-change cog with resistance, detachable aerial, the Lo-Tech branding and info sticker, lots and lots of brown. The centrepiece, though, is building the game world…

nintendo, lego, review, lockdown

This involves layering two sets of tracks with first plates and then tiles to build out a landscape background of warp pipes, blocks and Goombas that is then curled round the TV’s inner workings like a side-slung conveyor belt.

Building it is fun, but in action takes it to another level.

The TV stand is the last thing you do, and is probably the weakest part of the build – specifically, the TV set doesn’t actually fit to the stand, it sits atop it.

nintendo, lego, review, lockdown

While this is no doubt intended as part of the set’s realism, it creates a fairly precarious situation in actuality where hours of work are an accidental elbow away from shattering on the floor. (Four double-sided plates wouldn’t have gone amiss to fix the two together, authenticity be damned).

That said, the TV is by far the best part of the set.

Nintendo LEGO NES review: How to build the console

The LEGO NES console is supposed to be the first part of the build, numbered as it is 1-8, which we rather contrarily made second because the TV looked more fun.

Turns out we were right, with the console a tiny bit of a letdown after the fun and wonder of the television, so we’d recommend making them the other way round if you’re keen to build up your enjoyment.

You’d expect the complexities of the TV to be more time-consuming, but actually despite the less steps, the console is more intensive, as you forensically build up the insides to replicate the chips, interiors and mechanisms of the real-life console, such as the side-loading game cartridge.

There’s some great Nintendo easter eggs in there, too…

nintendo, lego, review, lockdown

The NES console build also had a couple of bricks missing, which was a bit of a shame, but luckily none of them are visible and the extras you always get with a LEGO set were able to fill in the gaps so that it was sturdy.

The external details are fantastic, though, from all the buttons and ports, to a working cartridge hatch, which reveals an authentic spring-loaded mechanism to receive and eject the cart.

The game pad controller and game pak cartridge are each swift and self-contained mini builds, with the attention to detail also phenomenal.

nintendo, lego, review, lockdown

nintendo, lego, review, lockdown

The whole thing is just so lifelike, and when finished we were left with a feeling of accomplishment, but sadness that it was over. We want more LEGO consoles and computers and we want them now – ZX Spectrum next please.

Nintendo LEGO NES review: The verdict

The LEGO Nintendo Entertainment System is so well-executed that we can’t praise it high enough. It’s one long punch to the nostalgia gland, riffing off two separate high-class legacies and intertwining them with ease. As a build, it’s long but never dull, with constant surprises, changes of pace and easter eggs to break it up.

nintendo, lego, review, lockdown

You get a premium build for the premium price tag and I’d really advise you to savour it – it’s an expensive build, even for LEGO (and even when discounted), so you really want to enjoy it.

I built it over the course of three days, in breaks and evenings, but you could easily drag it out for a week – it’s staggered well so you can do self-contained bits and pause. Go on, you owe it to yourself.

The LEGO Nintendo Entertainment System is RRP £209.99 and available from LEGO, but is currently £178.49 at the official Nintendo store.

The Lego Super Mario Starter Course is £44.99 from Amazon, with additional playsets from £17.99 and Mario expansion suits from £8.99.

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Digital Development Director, Hearst UK Matt was previously Editor-in-Chief of Digital Spy, where he contributed features and reviews on TV, movies, consumer technology, video games and Lego sets, won BSME Digital Editor of the Year, and led the team to numerous awards including Campaign Consumer Media Brand of the Year and PPA Digital Content Team of the Year twice.

He is now Digital Development Director across the Hearst UK portfolio, overseeing the central digital editorial teams including SEO, video, e-commerce and design, contributing to digital acceleration across all our brands, from Cosmopolitan to Good Housekeeping.

Before joining Hearst in 2015 Matt edited Future’s consumer technology lifestyle brand T3 and the UK arm of Gawker’s tech culture website Gizmodo, and was deputy editor at ShortList, the then biggest men’s magazine in the UK, interviewing the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Lord Sugar and Sirs Ridley Scott and David Attenborough in the process.

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