I’ve had the Lego NES kit sitting on my To Build pile for a little while now. This last weekend, after a long and busy week, I decided the time had come to put it together.
Piecing Lego kits together is as close to meditation as my ADHD will allow. It gives me something to focus on, allowing me to empty my head while still giving me something I can do with my hands. I like putting on a long podcast, sitting in the sun, and building away for a couple of hours.
The Lego NES kit is more complex than your average build. It sits within a range of especially expensive kits, not a Technic set but certainly in a similar vein. At just under 2,700 pieces, and with four discrete builds in the box, it presents the kind of challenge that takes a few days to complete.
I know this particular kit has been available for a little while now, but I think it’s such a fascinating build. I’ve never come across one quite like it.
The Lego NES
My build began with the Lego NES console itself. Were this a more standard Lego kit, this would likely be the easiest part of the build. A flat, square-shaped grey brick would be incredibly easy to recreate with Lego. But this is a premium kit. At this tier, you’re paying for interesting, complex builds, and that’s exactly what you get.
Not only does this kit help you construct the console’s familiar outer shell, it asks you to construct its internals too. This includes the spring-loaded cartridge slot, its logic board, and the large heatsink that covered it all. Hidden beneath the console’s shroud on the right-hand side is a replica of the classic Super Mario Bros Underground level. You know the one.
The point is: this step in particular is a far more complex build than you may expect. It’s also the first moment where the kit’s rich attention to detail begins to leap out. I don’t know how Lego managed to perfectly replicate the look of the classic RGB and 12-volt power ports with standard pieces, but it does.
The finished kit is a not-quite 1:1 replica of the NES. It cuts a convincing silhouette. On a recent editorial video call, a colleague mistook the Lego NES, placed on a shelf behind me, for the real thing.
The Lego NES blueprint includes two console adjacent mini-builds. The first, constructed with the console, is the classic NES controller. Rectangular in shape, its classic D-pad and two-button facade set the tone for every major console controller to come. The controller is also a 1:1 replica of the real thing, though its buttons are immovable. The second item in the kit is a Super Mario Bros cartridge, rendered at around half scale. The shape of the cartridge is perfect, however. Indeed, the cartridge build’s sole drawback is that it relies on the user to place a sticker of the game’s key art right on the build. This may be where many builders come, as it were, unstuck.
The TV blueprint is one of the most technically impressive Lego builds I’ve ever completed. It’s also one of the fiddlier and more frustrating builds in its latter stages.
The TV’s design — boxy, rectangular, wood-panelled, and adorned with knobs — will be instantly familiar to anyone who grew up in the late 1980s. We had an identical TV in our family home until at least 1996.
The TV’s initial build begins with its floor, followed by the cathode ray shroud at the rear. With this in place, the blueprint then turns its attention to the TV’s clockwork interior. A series of gears must be laid carefully within a mechanism that covers half the build structure. Once aligned, these gears are turned by a crank on the TV’s right-hand side.
From there, construction begins on a pair of conveyor belts. The belts are then connected by a row of long, thin platforms. You will then arrange a little scene upon these tessellating platforms. The scene depicts the famous World 1-1 from Super Mario Bros. Tiny, single-square caps dominate this section of the build.
The tricky part
The three hours it took me to complete this section were the most tedious of the entire build. Even though I could see World 1-1 slowly materialising before me, every part of its construction felt arduous. I think has more to do with the
The completed wraps around a rectangular carousel, a bit like a zoetrope. The carousel connects to the gear-and-crank structure within the TV. The crank can now be used to move the scene from right to left the way the game does. A small plastic stick with a Mario figure on it allows Nintendo’s favourite son to hop around the level as though controlled by a player. I found this section quite tricky. Dropping the carousel cleanly relies on a pair of specific prongs within the gear mechanism being installed levelly. If you’ve got it even slightly wrong, the carousel won’t sit flush within the frame of the TV.
Finally, the TV’s facade and stand are constructed and put in place. The illusion is complete. A little game of Super Mario Bros, made entirely out of Lego, plays out on the screen with the gentle turn of a crank.
The Lego Nintendo Entertainment System is one of the best sets Lego has ever produced. Its two downsides are its expensive price tag, and that it is perhaps too complex to build with very young kids. In every other respect, it is (mostly) a joy to build and to behold once complete. Like the very best Lego kits, it slowly reveals itself as the build progresses. There are multiple lightbulb moments as the master builders’ plans fall into place. When these moments arrive, you can’t help but marvel at their creativity.
A brilliant build, and a brilliant display piece. If you can justify the $350 price tag, you’ll be rewarded with one of the best Lego experiences around.