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Controller Freak

Chad Sapieha leads you deep into the world of games, covering gaming trends

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Augmented reality Lego game employs iPhone app, camera Add to ...

So, Lego. We can all agree it’s pretty much the best toy ever. The 20,000 elements – that’s geek-speak for Lego bricks – kicking around my house are constructed and reconstructed daily, and not just by my kid. It's family fun on a grand scale.

We never lack for building ideas, but we always welcome new suggestions and fresh reasons to put brick to brick. That’s what makes Life of George, a free app released for iPhone this past Saturday, such a welcome addition to our leisure. It’s an augmented reality game that tasks its users to build simple models – a guitar, a boy, a car – as quickly as possible. Once the last brick is in place, players must snap a photo of their creation with their phone’s camera. The app will identify the shape – pixel-like Lego bricks are ideally suited for digital recognition – and confirm your successful build.

The game leads players through more than a dozen groups of models that focus on various themes – New York, the office, aliens, Hawaii – and scores you on your speed and accuracy. The models typically require no more than a couple dozen bricks, but trust this building block veteran when he says achieving a perfect five stars is a real feat.

You can also set up head-to-head contests to see who scores best over five rounds of competition, or design your own models – the Life of George app will create a digital rendering of your creations – and group them for friends and family to try.

It’s loads of fun for all ages. There are few tactile sensations more satisfying than snapping a pair of Lego bricks home, and this game offers all the reason needed to experience this joyous feeling over and over again. The box says it's for ages 14 and up – perhaps because players will build a few adult-oriented objects, like a martini – but my six-year-old daughter has had a blast.

There’s just one big problem: You can’t play the game without buying an accompanying $35 Life of George Lego set. This kit contains just 144 pieces, all of which can be found in any starter Lego set. There’s nothing special about these elements, no reason they should be required for this game. However, the only way the app will recognize your build is if it’s sitting on a cardboard background covered in black circles, and the only way to get this special board is in the Life of George Lego set. It doesn’t appear as though Lego will sell it separately or make it available to download and print out.

This is disappointing. Lego had an opportunity to provide millions of existing Lego owners a great value-add: A new way for them to play with the bricks they already have. They could have even charged a buck or two for the app and enjoyed great software sales.

Instead, the Danish company has decided to use the app to sell a few more bricks – and at a premium (plenty of 150-piece Lego sets filled with less common elements sell for under $20).

Life of George is splendid, imaginative, innovative entertainment, and my love for Lego the toy wavers not. However, my love for Lego the company has slightly diminished.

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