I was very excited to hear that Lego was about to release its own AR app called LEGO AR Studio. I played Lego a lot when I was a child.playing. Even today, there is still a warm place in my heart for everything Lego related, kind of a child fixation I guess. The last time I did something related to Lego is going to a Lego exhibition that showcased some really amazing large-size creations done only with Lego pieces. In this review, we’ll take a closer look at this amazing new ARKit app.
What is Lego AR Studio?
Lego AR Studio is an augmented reality experience from LEGO. Although it won’t let you build using Lego pieces, you will have the option to view and interact with a digital version of selected LEGO sets virtually in your real world.
Lego also encourages users to bring their own physical Lego assets and mix it with the digital ones for a unique gameplay experience.
The app really surprised me with its features, I didn’t expect it to be that good. Although I wished there was a larger selection of Lego sets, the idea is to encourage those who are not familiar with Lego to try it out for the first time, and for those who already have physical Lego sets, to play it alongside the digital version. I am quite sure that it isn’t Lego’s attention to replace the physical with the digital.
Lego AR Studio actually reminded me one of my favorite AR movie maker apps called Vixeo. In Lego AR Studio you can deploy several Lego sets in the same scene, it supports collision detection and you can even control and move many of those sets. For example, you can fly a Lego dragon and make it breathe fire, you can drive a fire engine, make a large mech robot shoot rocket, etc.
However, Lego AR takes it even further. Some pieces will react to the certain behavior of other Lego parts. For example, I put a fire station and a dragon in the same scene. I then moved the dragon closed to the fire station let it breathe fire on nearby trees. Once I did it, the trees literally went on fire. The fire station sounded al alarm and you can see all the Lego human characters rushing to the fireman’s pole and start running like crazy all over the place. The same thing happened to the police station and it was so exciting and fun o watch.
Furthermore, Lego also added a rewarding mini-game where players need to find collectible Golden Bricks hidden around the Lego AR sets and scenery. You can find them by either exploring the scene performing a certain type of interaction that will eventually reveal them. Even as an adult I really enjoy looking for it and I just can’t imagine how exciting it will be for kids to do it.
I don’t want to put spoilers here, but the game features some funny interactions that will eventually reveal a golden break. I found 10 out of 12 and still wasn’t able to find all of them.
Before we move on, let’s check out some gameplay!
Record Movie and Take Snapshots
Lego AR Studio has a camera app built-in. players can use it to do several things, like capture a photos or videos that captured a mixed scene of both the virtual and the physical Lego pieces (only available using an AR app). Second, it allows users o direct their own Lego movies. It’s really fun seeing the virtual Lego pieces being part of the real world.
It could have been so much better if the virtual Lego sets can actually detect the virtual Lego sets and interact with them. This will enhance the experience ten-fold. I hope that ARKit 2.0 will be able to deliver that.
The one thing that I didn’t like is that the snapshots display the app’s user interface. it shouldn’t be like that. It supposes to show a clear image only of the Lego scene with the real environment without any of the overlayed buttons or other UI elements.
Graphics & Sounds
The Lego models are very detailed and they look great even when inspecting them up close. I actually found myself getting on my knees just to be able to get close to the action. For example, there was one time that I got really closed to the action to see how the Lego fireman is splashing water while standing on the fire truck crane.
Speaking of which, I really liked the fire animation. This is something that kids won’t be able to experience with real physical Lego pieces but you can do it in Augmented Reality without putting anyone in danger.
The visual effects are really important for this type of app and Lego used it throughout the app like showing fire effects when the dragon breathes fire on a tree, showing spraying water when the fireman uses the hose, adding a beautiful lean-burn engine effect for the ship when it’s flying in mid-air, etc.
I also really liked how the app auto hides certain parts of the 3D model when you pass through it. It actually encourages players to use their iPhone or iPad to move through the 3D models and inspect them up close.
For example, I found out that there is a prisoner in one of the rooms at the police station counting the days until his release. I found there is a ninja practicing martial arts with a wooden dummy at the middle area of the ship. I even find a prisoner very scared and shaking in his bed when I attacked the police station with my big Lego robot.These characters are hard to see and sometimes invisible unless you move your iPhone’s camera very close to their exact location.
Same goes for the sound effects, they are all perfectly fit their purpose. Lego added many sound effects to many of the actions which take place in the scene. It actually used positional audio, which means that some of the sound effects can only be heard once you get very close to the objects or character who makes them. For example, I could only hear the Ninja dude practicing martial arts only when I moved my iPad close to the section of the ship where he was at.
The sound effects also make the Lego AR experience more immersive and engaging compared to its physical equivalent.
All those things that I’ve mentioned above helped to assemble a very compelling, stimulating and exciting AR experience and one that feels unique to Lego AR Studio.
I didn’t even mention the great shadow effects, the ability to build Lego train tracks, the cool underground openings, the proximity interactions (like a door being opened when you get close to it), etc. Lego did an excellent job in this aspect. You can really appreciate their work once you pay attention to all those fine details.
I did encounter some issues with the AR experience. For example, I didn’t find any option to resize the Lego models, just rotate them. I think that Lego wanted to make them appear the same size as their physical equivalent. Maybe so that the experience mixed well without any other adjustments. Still, it would be nice to have this as an optional feature. I really wanted to increase the size of the dragon and take it on an outdoor flight.
Second, I wasn’t able to make the Lego dragon fly over a certain height or drive the fire truck outside the scanned area region. Some apps employ a technique that just automatically extends the plane and therefore allowing the virtual object move over a larger area, without it being previously scanned
I’ve also experienced some weird behavior when driving the fire truck. It suddenly moved on its two back wheels instead of having its four wheels on the ground.
Putting those things aside, the AR experience felt really good without any game-breaking issues. It found it very easy to place the Lego pieces in the scene, rotate them and move them around without any difficulties.
LEGO System A/S created a fantastic and unique AR experience like no other. This AR experience sports some really cool mini-games that are immensely fun and engaging.
In some way, I wish there were more digital assets to play with, which make the app feel somewhat limited. I understand that the app wasn’t designed to replace the user’s physical Lego assets, but just add another layer of entertainment. That being said, I do hope that the developer will add more Lego sets in upcoming updates.
Lego AR Studio features very detailed and realistically looking Lego sets. The AR experience expands on its physical equivalent with superb visual and sound effects and dynamic and interactive gameplay experience. That being said, it does encourages and promotes the mixing of your physical Lego creations with the app’s digital AR assets. I think playing Lego never felt so energetic and bursting with life.
Having an option to take snapshots and record videos of the mixed scene is a great feature. This allows kids to share their scenes with friends and promotes creativity and social sharing activity.
Lego AR Studio is by far the best app to compliment your other Lego toys but it can stand out right on its own and deliver an exceptional Lego experience even if you don’t own physical Lego toys of your own—Highly Recommended!
You can download the app from the App Store here.