With extremely exciting rumours we may finally be getting a LEGO® set inspired by the Legend of Zelda, the partnership between the LEGO Group and Nintendo shows no signs of slowing. Long before the two titans in their field joined forces, they were actually bitter rivals. In the late 60s Nintendo Co Ltd was still dabbling in non-gaming endeavours. One such product was N&B Blocks, a rather familiar-looking system of interlocking bricks. So similar in fact, that the LEGO Group unsuccessfully sued Nintendo. But N&B Blocks didn’t last for long and we’re discontinued the following decade. You can learn more about N&B Blocks on BeforeMario.com.
The next clash would be a far more friendly situation as the LEGO Group through TT Games, joined forces with the Big N for a Nintendo-exclusive LEGO game. Using TT Games’ much-loved format, LEGO City Undercover was created exclusively for the Nintendo Wii U console. The game was filled with references to Nintendo, such as superstars, green pipes, Bob-ombs and even the ability to unlock a Mario cap. The gameplay was introduced by LEGO Satoru Iwata, the late president of Nintendo at the time, during a Nintendo Direct. LEGO City Undercover has since been ported to other consoles, with the Nintendo references removed. It was joined by a prequel game, called LEGO City Undercover: The Chase Begins, which was released on the Nintendo DS handheld.
In 2020, the LEGO Group and Nintendo announced a new partnership to bring the world of Super Mario to life with LEGO bricks. Teams in Billund and Kyoto worked closely to create the LEGO Super Mario theme and offer a new way to experience the iconic Mario gameplay. Instead of simply recreating moments from past games in a standard playset, the LEGO Super Mario range introduced a whole new play system. Although LEGO bricks remained at the heart of the experience, an interactive version of Mario was created. Mario was soon joined by his little brother Luigi and ruler of the Mushroom Kingdom, Princess Peach. These special figures could interact with the sets via coloured surfaces, special bricks and certain movements.
The introduction of LEGO Luigi, another iconic Nintendo game series would inspire a handful of expansion sets. Luigi’s Mansion debuted on the GameCube and has seen follow-ups on the Nintendo DS and Switch. With Mario missing, Luigi, with a little help from Professor E. Gadd, faced off against some spooky foe armed with a vacuum cleaner. This introduced new characters and gameplay to the LEGO Mario sets.
Last year, another iconic Nintendo game franchise was introduced as a subtheme to the wider LEGO Super Mario ecosystem. Inspired by Rare’s Donkey Kong Country games, the Donkey Kong expansion sets, recreated the famed DK Crew as buildable characters. The sets also included some of the animal mounts used in the games to ride across levels.
Although there was some disappointment that the Mario sets didn’t feature minifigures and the customisable sets weren’t great for display purposes, these 18+ sets were well received. The first of the larger Nintendo sets replicated the non-Japanese version of the Nintendo Entertainment System. The NES was Nintendo’s first major home console and the LEGO version was an almost 1:1 recreation of the console and included a mini TV which ‘played’ part of a level from the original Super Mario Bros. game.
This was followed up with a Question Mark Block which hid microscale recreations of Super Mario 64’s worlds. Then a buildable version of the Mighty Bowser was released. Both of these sets made use of the scannable Action Bricks so they could interact with the various interactive characters. Late last year, the Piranha Plant became the latest snappy although smaller non-expansion Mario set and was the first Mario set not to connect to any of the previous sets.
In October 2023, the LEGO Group expanded their partnership with Nintendo to bring the world of Animal Crossing to life with LEGO bricks. Animal Crossing began life as a social sim on the Nintendo 64 before an updated version of the same game was ported to the GameCube. This version of the game was also released beyond Japan and has built up a cult following ever since. The game exploded in popularity with the Switch release, New Horizon, as it was released just as much of the world went into lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. The first LEGO Animal Crossing sets are due to be released on March 1st, 2024 and they will be more like traditional LEGO play sets, featuring unique minifigures of the series’ various animal residents. The sets will even be getting unique Japanese packaging.
There have been numerous rumours related to what the future of the partnership with Nintendo holds. There have been suggestions that the LEGO Super Mario theme is being retired, although recent rumours list numerous upcoming Mario sets including another 18+ release. The biggest and most exciting rumour is the possible release of a set inspired by the Legend of Zelda series. The sage-like Great Deku Tree has been featured in many of Link’s adventures and could be transformed into a future LEGO Icons set. Until confirmed by the LEGO Group or Nintendo, these remain purely speculative. But as a die-hard fan of the Zelda games, this has me extremely excited.
Back in 2020, I mused at what the future of the partnership between Nintendo and the LEGO Group could hold, I wasn’t far off with some of my predictions. Check it out here and I still think Animal Crossing BrickHeadz would be cool.