Lego's never been one to shy away from trying to use technology to innovate, whether that involves developing its own video games, tinkering with augmented reality playsets, or simple things like offering digital instructions to people who want them. Now it's trying to turn kids into miniature Derek Acorahs, with a range of mixed reality products that blend physical playsets with app-based gaming.
The best way to think about Lego Hidden Side is as the company's own take on Ghostbusters. The theme features two young protagonists, Jack and Parker, who travel around the fictional town of Newbury to fight and capture ghosts that have been possessing people and objects. The problem is that those ghosts can't be seen unless viewed through a special smartphone app, which is where the mixed reality focus comes into things.
The idea behind Hidden Side is that kids will buy and build different physical Lego playsets and use the companion app to hunt and take down the ghosts that have hidden within it. The two are designed to work together in tandem, with each set unlocking a new area of Newbury to explore. The app recognises each set and loads up each area accordingly, and once that's done the idea is to interact with different switches and coloured panels to hunt down the ghost hiding within. By activating panels, players can activate games on their phone, and successfully beating those games will reveal the big bad ghost.
The key thing about Hidden Side is that the two are designed to work in tandem. So while you can play with the sets by themselves, the AR app is the part that lets you do all the exciting things. After all, what good is ghost hunting if you don't have the kit to see the ghosts?
The app has also been designed to ensure simplicity, and part of that is keeping the set within view of the app. Move the phone too close or too far away and you'll end up with a screen of static that only fades away when you readjust.
Lego has also recognised that kids might want to play in a place where they can't take a full Lego set. So for that reason the Hidden Side app will have a digital-only mode that lets you play as one of the ghosts you've captured before. Those ghosts have to be captured from the sets themselves, so you can't really have one without the other. Similarly, the physical 'hunter mode' lets you collect in-game currency that you can use to level up your captured ghosts. Everything has been challenge scaled, though, meaning you won't ever run out of ghosts to collect, and the mysteries in the sets themselves will change each time you play.
At launch there are expected to be 40-50 ghosts to collect, with the promise that more will be added in the future. Lego has also promised that the app is free (properly free, no in-app purchases) and will include updates in the future - updates that will feature events and new sets that are expected to be added to the theme next year.
Hidden Side is set to launch towards the end of this summer, and will feature eight sets in the first wave. They include the Lab (174 pieces, £18), the Boat (310 pieces, £25), the Graveyard (335 pieces, £25), the Truck (428 pieces, £35), the Diner (579 pieces, £45), the Bus (689 pieces, £55), the Train (698 pieces, £70), and the High School (1,474 pieces, £110). The app will be available on iPhone 6S and newer, and equivalent spec Android devices that are compatible with ARCore.
Sadly we don't have pictures of them all, since they've only just been announced at New York Toy Fair, but we'll try and procure some when they're available.