LEGO’s new Hidden Side set series is more than it seems at first glance. Each set hides away many secrets, some of which you can only find using an app. That’s because this set features augmented reality that brings everything to life. Well, except the ghosts.
Once upon a time, LEGO sets were static. You’d build them, look at them, and either display them somewhere or rip them apart to store or use for custom sets. But once you finished building a kit, you were more or less “done” with it. But over time that changed—Lego introduced vehicles, motorcycles, trains that moved on their own, and things that shoot weapons or transform. After all, more play is a better value.
LEGO Hidden Side sets take that concept to the next level. To make that happen, the company released the Hidden Side app (for Android and iOS), so you can play an Augmented Reality (AR) game with your LEGO sets. That gives you more to do with the LEGO sets, but it comes at a slight cost (more on that in a bit).
For this review, we’re working with the Newbury Haunted High School set, which is the largest and most expensive set in the series.
A Transforming High School
My home contains thousands of LEGO bricks and dozens of LEGO sets my wife has collected over 30-some odd years. When you walk into my basement, you’ll see everything from the Shrieking Shack to the Disney Castle to a Parisian Restaurant—even long discontinued sets like the LEGO Systems Cargo Railway train. I say all this to qualify the following statement: The Newbury Haunted High School is one of the coolest LEGO sets I’ve seen.
At 1,474 pieces, it will take the experienced LEGO builder a few hours to build. But the good news is, it’s mostly accessible to younger children, too. LEGO recommends this set for children nine and older, and that feels about right. My seven-year-old helped with some major sections, but because this high school transforms, there are several rubber band components the adults handled. When you’re done, the set will stand 11” (30cm) high, 16” (43cm) wide, and 10” (26cm) deep. Here’s a quick overview of what the build process looks like:
But the fun isn’t just building the set; it’s playing with it after. While it starts looking like a mansion-style high school, this set transforms. Flip a few switches and claws, teeth, and eyes come out, forming a monstrous face. I prefer this look over the standard high-school design; it’s more fun. The backside features a shallow section of a high-school interior, complete with chalkboards, computers, a skeleton, and a toilet (yes, really).
Like any LEGO set, you get several mini-figs. LEGO themed these after the characters in the Hidden Side game, and you get seven total people along with a few ghost heads. They work well within both the context of the LEGO set and the game.
But the real star is the most adorable ghost dog mini-fig I’ve ever seen. If you could buy Spencer (all the mini-figs have names, even the dog) standalone, I’d suggest dropping everything to get him right now. Alas, he’s only available bundled in the Hidden Side sets, though that includes the affordable J.B.’s Ghost Lab Kit.
The set itself is solid when built; I was able to carry it from my game table in my dining room through several rooms and downstairs to my photo booth setup. I love the unique look; it’d fit right in with the rest of the LEGO displays in my basement. But we didn’t set it up for display, because the real fun begins when you pull out your phone or tablet and load up the Lego Hidden Side app.
A Fun Though Shallow AR Game
The LEGO Hidden Side game works through Augmented Reality (AR). You open the app and choose one of two modes, either go ghost hunting or ghost haunting. The second mode you can play even if you haven’t bought a LEGO set.
The first mode is where the real action is at though. You choose which set you own, then scan it with your camera. Moments later, it comes to life, and it looks incredible.
With the Newbury Haunted High School, a moon appears over the set and shines light on everything. Gargoyles show up on the roof and look around. And at one point, my wife thought a rat running across our table was something real. Even individual pieces like the computer monitor comes to life. The AR effect is outstanding. The game itself is a little thin.
You take control of Jack Davids, a 13-year-old who’s new to town, and quickly discover Newbury’s ghost problem. You team up with friends, including J.B. (a scientist), to catch the ghosts with your phones.
That entails buying sets, scanning them in, and then going ghost hunting. This set includes a built-in color wheel you’ll turn. Once you’re on the right color, you scan around for matching “gloom” to find ghosts and zap them.
Of course, you can’t wail on the screen, that’ll overheat your laser. And the ghosts throw gloom at you that you need to shoot. Otherwise, you might get hurt too much, and the game is over. You’ll need to use a little bit of strategy to manage laser heat, gloom attacks, and capture the ghosts. With enough time, you can free the area of ghosts.
The more you play, the more you can upgrade your equipment (faster zapping, fewer overheats, etc.). And you’ll discover mysteries along the way (there’s not much story, so I hesitate to spoil what’s there).
You can play ghost haunting mode without any sets. In that mode, you haunt a location and try to attack set pieces with gloom. But a ghost detector (a giant phone) attacks you. It can only see ghosts of a certain color, so you’ll change your ghost color to escape it.
Overall the game is simplistic, which is fine; it’s accessible to children and gives them something to do after they finish building the LEGO set.
Should You Buy It?
Whether you should buy the Newbury Haunted High School set is a complicated question. At $130, it’s certainly not an inexpensive LEGO set. And while the AR game is fun, it’s probably not going to keep children entertained for hours. My seven-year-old likes the game a lot, but he was ready to play something else after about a half-hour.
If you’re purchasing for young children, I’d suggest starting with one of the smaller, more affordable Hidden Side sets, like the Shrimp Boat or Stunt Truck, then work your way up to the Newbury Haunted High School if it keeps their attention.
On the other hand, if your child regularly puts together large and complicated sets and the idea of spending over $100 on a LEGO set doesn’t make you flinch, go for it. This set is fantastic, and a joy to put together and play with, too. And how many sets do you own includes a LEGO bathroom?
If you’re a LEGO collector, the equation is equally complicated. In my home, we consider a good set value to be 10 cents per brick. At $130 and 1,474 pieces, this set runs at around 13 cents per brick, more than we’d usually like to pay.
But the Newbury Haunted High School includes the AR game, which does cost to create, so that warrants some consideration. And more importantly (as a LEGO collector anyway), this set comes with multiple unique bricks we haven’t seen before. In some cases, that means unusual shapes, like a hot dog with bun, that we either haven’t seen anywhere else or that can only be found in discontinued sets. In other cases, it’s architectural pieces in new colors we’ve never seen before.
If you like to create your own custom set, the prospect of having new shapes or colors is tantalizing and does overcome the higher cost per brick this set commands. For LEGO collectors, I think the unique bricks, the transforming features, and even the fun AR game makes this a must buy.
And for everyone else, I have this to say: We put away most LEGO sets in our display area once we finish building them. But this one stayed out. It was fun to build, it was fun to transform, and it was fun to play the AR game. And that’s really the whole reason to own LEGO bricks in the first place.
Here’s What We Like
- High school transforms into an awesome monster face
- Adorable ghost dog mini-fig
- AR game is actually fun
- Several unique pieces that you can't find anywhere else
And What We Don't
- Somewhat expensive at 13 cents a brick
- AR game is thin on content