I’ve been a huge fan of Super Marios Bros ever since the original Nintendo game came out back when I was… much, much younger. I’ve played the majority of the iterations of the video game, and I even dressed up as Mario and Luigi for Halloween with a friend one year. And now K’NEX has joined the party with various Super Mario Brothers building sets.
I spent several hours putting together the Super Mario 3D Land™ Bowser’s Castle Building Set (MSRP $99.99 available exclusively at Toys ‘R Us). This is the first K’NEX set that I’ve thought about throwing in the towel before we were done. Part of that has to do with the sheer size of the project – I can’t even tell you how many pieces are there, but there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds used to create this awesome castle.
Though I was somewhat frustrated by the building process (more on that in a bit), it was well worth my back ache to watch the wee ones playing with it once it was complete. There are so many moving pieces that really make it interactive as you use your Mario character to enter the castle and go past various obstacles, while collecting coins and power ups, to battle Bowser and rescue Princess Peach.
There is a motor that spins an obstacle of Draglet when you first enter the castle, which also spins fireballs on another level. There are catapults to pop Mario to the next level within the castle (and a different bottom for Mario so that he can actually fly through the air). Mario can ride the elevator that rises to the top of the castle. The fireballs move up and down when you turn a white lever next to them, and the track moves up and down, allowing the “train” to travel it using a lever.
The downside with that? Mario doesn’t stay in place whether sitting or standing when traveling the track to collect coins. Neither Mister Man nor I was able to get him attached. Stationary, he could sit or stand, but as soon as you moved the lever, he fell off. That was disappointing, and the wee ones have already decided to just skip that section, which is a shame as it’s a really cool concept.
There were a few things in the building of Bowser’s Castle that were cool in concept but ended up not working out 100% as designed. For example, the coins attach to the castle walls in various places. The directions show seven spots (though there are far more coins than that in the set), but you have to punch your own holes through the wall to place them. Other stickers that require holes have them precut, making it easy and clear where to attach pieces. With this, Mister Man put the coins in the “wrong” place a few times before I noticed and helped him going forward.
There was also a big star at the end that I presume was supposed to go somewhere. It is never once mentioned in the directions – and we both searched the entire book more than once. It was once pictured already in place, but placing it where it’s shown would prevent the drop through action on the level above, so for now we’ve left it simply sitting near the top of the castle. There are a few places where the directions need a little improvement. For example, there are a few building pieces that are not the same color as what is shown in the directions book, making it hard to find the pieces and ensure they are the right ones.
This wouldn’t be so much of an issue if the pieces were in bags sorted according to when you used them. For example, steps 1-6 could be in one bag, steps 7-12 in another bag, and so on. Instead, there are six bags filled with pieces. When building various parts, you have to go from bag to bag searching for each component. Eventually, I memorized which piece was in which bag and it went faster, but some pieces had only 1 or 3 in the entire set and were difficult to track down using this method. On the plus side, we were not missing a single piece, and we had extras when done that went into our K’NEX bucket to be used to build other toys later.
As complex as this was, it was sometimes frustrating to build because I would put a piece in backwards or sideways and not realize it until much later. The best part about K’NEX though is that it’s easy to fix a mistake without taking apart the entire building set like you have to with many building products. That helped out a lot as I gained experience figuring out how all the components work together. And once it’s together? It’s really sturdy. We’ve slid it across the floor, picked it up to move it to a table, and more. That means that I don’t have to worry about the wee one or their friends playing with it and breaking, with frustration all around as we have to rebuild it.
We have had hours of fun playing with this already from the building to actually playing with it. The Bowser’s Castle Building Set is listed as 8+, and while I can see kids as young as 8 (or younger) loving playing with it, this is definitely one that needs an adult to help put it together, even my 10 year old master builder got lost from time to time.
That said, I love that this isn’t a toy that you build and then set on a shelf to admire. For $99.99, it’s a great feat of engineering fun that then turns into a toy that the wee ones want to play with. They have been discovering all sorts of adventures with it and can’t wait to play with it again.
Just don’t tell them that there are even more Mario Brothers sets with different scenes from the video games that they can combine to create an entire video game in the real world!