Lego Fusion review: hands-on with the system that lets kids build a videogame world with real-life Lego bricks

Lego bricks never get old, but that doesn't mean we don't want new ways to play with them.

I love the Lego videogames too (especially Lego Batman and Lego Indiana Jones), because it's so fun to run around the fully built Lego worlds, smashing everything you see – but you don't get to build anything new or creative.

Until now.

Lego Fusion, announced Thursday by Lego's Future Lab, is a new way to combine the fun of a Lego videogame with the do-anything creativity of real Lego bricks. Each set comes with 200-plus bricks, a companion app for iOS and Android, and a special building plate that helps you bring your own creations into the game world – whatever you build becomes part of the game.

In one set, Town Master (above), you're building a new town and keeping your citizens happy. If someone wants pizza, you have to build her a pizza parlor. So you grab the special base plate and the bricks, and you design a 2D facade. It has to have a door, and max out at 16 bricks wide by 16 bricks high, but other than that you can use your imagination--maybe the front of your pizza parlor looks like a checkered tablecloth, or even a tomato.

When you're done building, you'll use the camera on your smartphone or tablet to "scan" your facade: First the camera recognizes the base plate's pattern, then onscreen guides help you tilt the device to get your whole facade into the camera's view. Then just press a button, and watch as inside the game, a team of Lego construction workers appear, hammering and building and stopping for adorable coffee breaks. And then poof, your facade appears in the game as a full three-dimensional building. A new citizen pops out of the door with his own needs, you're prompted to build something new, and your town keeps growing. Completing missions and adding extra decorations keep you plenty busy maintaining your town's overall happiness score.

If that sounds a little too Sims, how about some tower defense? Lego Fusion's Tower Battle set (above) has you rebuilding a king's fallen tower one level at a time, and after each level is built, you defend it from airborne attackers. Instead of each level giving you a new citizen at random, you pick a type, from archers to wizards and beyond, and those citizens help defend your tower. When your tower takes damage, you can repair it with timed builds using your physical bricks. Even though these games are aimed at kids as young as 7, Tower Battle involves a good deal of strategy and ramps up the difficulty as you play.

Create & Race lets kids design their own car, however they like, and then pull that into the game to race, smash up in a demo derby, or show off their stunt driving. While we don't know when these will ship in the UK, the first three sets are due in the US in August, and in September, a fourth one follows, called Resort Designer. It works a little like Town Master but you also get to design the interiors of each building at your fabulous beach resort. Each set will retail for $35 (around £20, though UK pricing has yet to be announced), and the apps are free – they even have some free play options you can dabble with before you buy the Lego set.

I got to play with prototype versions of Town Master and Tower Battle, and even in an unfinished state, the level of polish and cuteness cannot be denied. The games have that familiar TT Games style but still feel totally fresh thanks to the tie-in with your physical creations – designing a 2D facade that becomes a 3D building in your game world is a hoot every time.

While the sets come with a couple hundred bricks, you can actually use the pieces already in your collection as well. They might not always show up as the correct color, but they'll still appear in the game. You don't need a persistent Internet connection to play, which is nice, but you can sign in with your Lego ID to sync your game worlds to the cloud, and even visit your friends' towns. Oh, and if you can't use your bricks at the moment (maybe you're at a restaurant, or in the car), you can still advance in the game by reusing your old, saved models to build new buildings.

Lego Fusion joins Osmo as a clever way for kids to incorporate tablets (or smartphones, in this case) into their play without simply playing on the tablet. When watching a movie or even reading, all that matters is what's on the screen, and kids can get that glazed-eye look of a tablet zombie. But by showing them they can do something in the real world that affects the virtual world in such a direct way, hopefully kids will start to think of the tablet as a tool to make things rather than just a screen to stare at. It's not directly teaching coding concepts like the Play-i robots, for example--but it's a step in that direction.

And just like the Lego videogames, even though it's designed for kids, I'll bet you my favorite Lego minifig that you wind up playing with it, too.


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