Lego is to release a new range of sets in the coming months that embrace augmented reality. It has shown them for the first time publicly at the New York Toy Fair.
After months of various AR demos, including on stage at Apple events, the toy company confirmed that it will launch eight sets within a new range called Lego Hidden Side.
New spooky sets
Pocket-lint was told that the line-up will be expanded over time and centres around two characters, Jack and Parker, as they explore their hometown of Newbury. Where it differs to normal Lego builds is players can use their mobile phones to see and solve paranormal mysteries beneath the surface of different environments.
Kids, young and old, will be tasked with using their phones to catch ghosts in a range of sets. They include a laboratory, graveyard, American yellow school bus and an epic haunted house - all of which strongly influenced by American teen horror movies and TV shows, such as Stranger Things.
The physical sets will range in price from £17.99 to £109.99, with the haunted house flagship set also sporting a nasty secret - it turns into a monster.
In two separate preview events, we got to check out all eight and they are great. And there is plenty of physical interaction - as Lego builds - for them to stand on their own, even without the additional augmented element. We especially love the overall look of the yellow school bus and haunted house.
More than just a Lego set
"Activating the bespoke AR app developed together with the theme brings the models to life, revealing a hidden world of interactive mysteries and challenges to solve. When combined, the two worlds make each other even more compelling and fun," Lego explained.
As we discovered, they really come to life when viewed through an iOS or Android device. They have a "hidden side", hence the name.
The idea is that users use one hand to hold an handset to search for specific things hidden in the set, and the other hand to interact with the set they've built.
It's this successful merging of the physical and virtual worlds of play that works so well. It's an experience that doesn't feel bolted on as an afterthought, but as an excellent additional feature.
You don't get ghost mini-figures in the box, for example, although included characters can be "possessed" by replacing their heads. Instead, the ghosts are supplied through AR and it feels as if the phone is the portal into a different world. Clever.
A possible iPhone problem
However, there is a caveat. By forcing players to use a phone to get the most from the sets, they are restricted by what handset they can use. The nature of the software means that it requires fairly powerful handsets to work. To get interoperability with both Android and iPhone, Lego uses Qualcomm's Vuforia AR tech rather than Apple's ARKit or Google's ARCore code specifically.
That means the app, while free, requires an iPhone 6S or above or an equivalent Android smartphone to run. These aren't the sort of phones many 7-10 years olds have constant access to - and that's the age group the set is aimed at.
In addition, although the app is available for both mobile and table, the experience is designed firmly with a one-handed phone in mind. That's because Lego wants kids to play with the set with the other, so both hands are needed - one for the virtual and one for the physical.
Anyone can still play using a tablet, but the size of the device may pose some challenges for kids who have difficulty holding a tablet in just one hand. They'll only get half the experience.
AR mode with the app
Technological barriers aside, Lego's app focuses around two types of gameplay. There is action play, plus an ever-changing discovery experience to encourage repeat play.
"The ghosts won't be in the same place every time," we were told by Roberto Marchesi, a senior design manager at Lego.
Once you've found the ghosts hiding in the sets you'll be tasked with capturing them, which is where the action element comes into it.
Lego also told Pocket-lint that the experience will continue to expand with the addition of new ghosts, new game challenges and randomisation of gameplay.
It also hinted that, in future you'll be able to add any Lego minifig to the set to interact, be it from a Lego City set or Lego Star Wars. For the moment though, the interaction will be restricted to those figures in the Hidden Sides range.
Release date and price
Lego Hidden Side will be available globally in late summer 2019. Physical sets will range in price from £17.99 to £109.99 with the app available for free via the Apple Store and Google Play.