Lego Hidden Side review: the future of AR toys
Lego’s latest toy set collection, Lego Hidden Side, has us AR developers all excited thanks to its introduction of an augmented reality app within the game experience. The Lego set is built around a ‘ghost-hunting’ theme, with eight available sets based on different locations: a school, bus, boat, train, truck, lab, graveyard and shop.
Just like with any other set, the gameplay begins with building the actual structures. However, after the build stage is done, you can then unlock a hidden AR experience by holding your phone up to the set. A virtual world then pops up from your creation, acting as a playground for several AR-powered ghost-hunting games. This adds a whole layer to the gameplay that is entirely new and really exciting.
The Lego set collection is primarily aimed at children ages 7 and up. The two main characters of the game are children too, a pre-teen duo of young ghost hunters (a boy and a girl). The ease of building the actual toy set, and the overall design of the companion app, reflects this age range too, making it a very accessible and straightforward but still highly engaging game for children. However, it may take a little while to get used to the app and the gameplay at first.
First AR impressions
From an AR standpoint, I was pleasantly surprised by the model tracking and model augmentation upon first using the app.
The model I tried was the boat set, which features a few fishermen as well as the two ghost hunters. One of the fishermen can be transformed to make him look haunted by adding a set of tentacles to his back (think Davy Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean). After doing so, scanning the haunted minifigure plays a part in the gameplay.
The app experience around this still feels like a bit of a work-in-progress. The game asks you to place a minifigure on the boat at one point, but the minifigure doesn’t actually get recognised properly, making if fall behind the AR layer.
How it works
In my toy set, the AR experience is triggered when pointing your phone towards the boat. The model then becomes extended by a swamp setting. The boat begins to move swiftly through the waves until, suddenly, it comes to a stop once its engine begins spitting flames.
After this short intro animation, the game begins in earnest. Now you have to go hunting for ghosts by moving your phone around the area of your model, looking for energy spikes called ‘Glooms’ (indicators of ghost activity). Once you find a certain number of Glooms, a ghost appears that you must capture by shooting at it through the reticle displayed on your phone.
To find all of the ghosts, you’ll have to make use of the physical colour wheel attached to your Lego set. Turn the wheel to a different colour to find all the different types of Glooms.
I really enjoyed all of the small AR effects overlaid on the model, such as lights, fire, small animals and water. In general I found the AR effects excellent, and it really shows that Lego partnered with Vuforia for this project. I don’t think I’ve seen any other augmented toy examples that use AR as well as this.
I also found the model tracking very accurate; it manages to keep a good lock on a Lego model you literally just built with your own hands.
However, the shooting mechanics of the game have some room for improvement. The tutorial was also a little messy, and I found the occasional bug.
Overall I think the game is definitely worth a buy! It really is worth it just for the AR feature and, if you don’t like it, you’ll still have a nice Lego set to play with (or worst case scenario, to give away to any younger relatives).
As a nice aside, if you want to experience the AR for other sets, you can bypass buying each of them by simply scanning a clear image of the product. I tried it on Youtube 360 videos of the sets and it worked!