Lego has been dabbling with video games for years, trying to blur the line between physical bricks and digital devices. And in its latest attempt, a toy range named Hidden Side, the world's biggest toymaker treads down an increasingly popular route.
With Pokémon Go, Harry Potter and Minecraft already well invested in AR, and iOS' ARKit technology able to provide increasingly impressive results, it is perhaps not surprising to see Lego also venture down the same path. But for a toy designed to spark imagination rather than simply show it on screen - is it a helpful addition or an unwelcome distraction?
Hidden Side is a toy range first, but its hook is how each set has an extra layer of playability when paired up with the free Hidden Side game for your mobile phone and tablet. Here's how it looks in action:
Each physical set features a combination of ghosthunting kids Jack and Parker on a mission to rid their neighbourhood of spectral possession, aided by punky scientist J.B. (a loving riff on Ghostbusters' Holtzmann) and Spencer, a friendly ghost dog.
Their enemies? A gaggle of ghosts able to possess others, which allows for physical Lego minifigures to be customised with some creepy possessed parts. And it's here the app comes into play.
Hidden Side's ghosts exist entirely in the digital version of your Lego creation, when scanned via your phone's camera. Each set in the Hidden Side range unlocks an AR scene around it, turning your carpet or coffee table into a spooky background. The set itself also becomes augmented, with parts coming alive, Lego rats scuttling about, and extra detailing becoming visible.
With this particular set, El Fuego's Stunt Truck, you're playing as hoodied hero Jack in a souped up stunt vehicle turned ghost-hunting wagon, chasing down a pair of ghostly bikers. Scan the vehicle using the Hidden Side game and the design is instantly recognised - your truck zooms off, down a road constructed around the vehicle using AR.
Here, as with all Hidden Side sets, you can begin poking around your build to find hidden points of interest, tapping on your phone screen to cleanse certain bricks using touch-based mini-games. Every set also includes a physical colour wheel for you to rotate, focusing your device's ghost-scanning capabilities on different frequencies.
Your job is to find and eliminate all the ghosts hiding in your set by aiming and firing an anti-spook laser as they fly around the room. You have a set amount of battery power for each ghost hunting session, and you'll also have to find a hidden Soul Artefact which will trigger each set's boss fight. In the case of the stunt truck, it's hulking cowboy ghost Mason the Haunting Highwayman.
As the boss battle begins, the Stunt Truck roars into life, its wheels now spinning along its AR road - although, of course, it's still stationary in front of me on my desk. Afterwards, the boss ghost becomes part of my growing ghost collection, able to be utilised in the game's offline mode, where you possess a haunted graveyard. This part of the app can be accessed at any time regardless of whether you are in front of your Lego or not, and allows you to level up your ghost characters and skills to become more proficient spooksters.
I was a big fan of Lego Dimensions, the brilliant but expensive blend of physical Lego figures and digital video game - which was always more of the latter than the first. Hidden Side switches this relationship between physical and digital Lego, and probably ends up a more permanent activity because of it - take away the mobile app interactivity and this is still an attractive and well-priced set anyway.
We all spend hours glued to our phones, but I'm left with the impression Hidden Side is actually way to encourage the imagination of Lego fans rather than simply replace it - to encourage more adventures with their builds after the range's digital mini-games have been completed, their minifigures free once again to explore acres of carpet.