Friday, January 24, 2014

N&B Block vs LEGO (任天堂 ブロック vs レゴ)

I just performed a small experiment. For some time, I had been wondering about the compatibility between Nintendo's N&B Block bricks and - its source of inspiration - the original LEGO bricks. In fact, the experiment is so simple that I don't understand why I had not tried it before.

Let's first take a closer look at the respective rectangular bricks, side by side. They have identical dimensions and are overall very similar, except for the names on the top of the studs.

N&B Block brick (left) and LEGO brick (right)

When we flip them over, we see more differences.

Nintendo created an alternative to LEGO's patented tube design. These tubes are the golden idea that locks the bricks tightly together during construction. Nintendo conceived a design that (they hoped) would prevent LEGO from filling a claim of patent infringement.

Four N&B Block bricks (left) and four LEGO bricks (right)

Although the tubes are somewhat different in design, this does not prevent the two systems from being completely compatibly. You can mix the blocks, and they fit perfectly.

Experiment success - the N&B and LEGO blocks interlock

While this little test gives the impression that Nintendo did nothing more than copy an existing product, let's not forget that they also expanded on it by introducing a slew of new round shapes, which LEGO did not offer at the time.

"Look at all these great N&B Block shapes!"

In their advertisements in the 1960s, Nintendo loved to rub this in. In multiple television commercials, they showed N&B Block as the improved version of the blocky LEGO sets.

In the end, however, Nintendo had to pull their product from the market, never to return.

"Mine is better than yours!"

Well, it actually did return once. The N&B Blocks were used as platforms in one of the stages of the Mario Zone in the 1992 Game Boy game Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins.

N&B Block in Super Mario Land 2
(c) Nintendo

Unlike most Mario games, that are made by the Nintendo EAD team under the direction of Shigeru Miyamoto, the Super Mario Land games were developed by Nintendo's R&D 1 team, with its team head Gunpei Yokoi also acting as the games' producer.

Super Mario Land 2 credits

Yokoi's R&D 1 team evolved from Nintendo's earlier Games department, where N&B Block was created. So the inclusion of these blocks in Super Mario Land 2 is not only nice nod to Nintendo's past, but also acknowledges the team's own heritage. They wrote their signature on the wall.

Anyway, returning to the topic of this post, that's one burning question laid to rest: N&B Block and LEGO are compatible.

In case you missed the earlier posts about Nintendo N&B Block construction sets from the late 1960s, check out this introduction.


  1. Interesting I didn't know those blocks showed up in Super Mario Land 2, though I'm sure most of us Western players simply thought they were Lego bricks anyway.

    1. True. In the early 90s, the pre-NES past of Nintendo was largely unknown in the West.

  2. I never knew just how similar they were...interesting!