If there’s a way to mash more things that kids love into a single product than the new Lego Marvel Super Heroes game, I’d like to see it.
Let’s run down the list: is it a video game? Check. Is it based on Lego toys? Yup. Are the characters from Marvel comic books? They sure are. Add all this up and it’s going to be really tough for any youngster – or adult who grew up on this stuff, for that matter – to resist. Yet, there’s more to Lego Marvel than its obvious broad appeal. TT Games has the formula down pat, with the game representing its an unheard of 14th release in this line of action-adventure platformers since the inaugural Lego Star Wars eight years ago. While Lego Marvel isn’t the British developer’s best effort yet – that honour goes to last year’s magnum opus Lego City Undercover – it’s certainly up there, since it satisfies in all of its basic mash-up elements.
Front and centre are, of course, the super heroes (and super villains). Marvel’s huge cast of characters are all here and playable, from the iconic likes of Iron Man, Wolverine and Spider-Man to the relatively obscure – who would have thought Captain Britain or Union Jack would ever appear in a video game? All told, there are about 150 characters to unlock throughout the course of the game.
Only a relative handful are available through the main story, which begins with the alien Silver Surfer mysteriously knocked out of the sky. His surfboard is shattered into cosmic bricks, which the villainous Doctor Doom attempts to acquire. He recruits the likes of Magneto and Loki to help, which forces a counter from SHIELD director Nick Fury. He calls in the Avengers, Fantastic Four and X-Men to stop the evil plot to build Doctor Doom’s Doom Ray of Doom. What follows are episodic romps through familiar Marvel locales, including the X-Men mansion and Doom’s kingdom of Latveria, among others.
Every Marvel game benefits from decades of character development from the comic books and movies, so when it stays true to the source material, it feels like adventuring with old friends. That’s certainly the case here, with the characters behaving just like you’d expect. Wolverine is aggressive and ornery; Captain America is stolid and upstanding (although he does get angtsy when a certain master of magnetism defaces the Statue of Liberty); Spider-Man is full of quips and aloofness. Helping them come alive is some excellent voice work from some actors who are familiar to their roles (for example, Clark Gregg resurfaces as Agent Coulson, while Steven Blum reprises Wolverine from the cartoons).
The definition follows over into the action as well with subtle touches differentiating the characters better than in any previous TT Lego game. Captain America and Wolverine, both of whom are natural fighters, are great for taking on large swarms of bad guys while the Invisible Woman and Jean Grey are more suited to playing support roles with their mental powers from behind cover. While the frequent skirmishes aren’t necessarily challenging, there is now a small element of strategy involved in how the characters are used.
The game also does a great job at incorporating both Marvel’s cinematic universe and its storied comic book history, which is a knowing wink to fans of both or either. The Avengers characters are sourced from the films – Fury, for example, is the Samuel L. Jackson version – while the X-Men are in their colourful ‘90s comic book costumes, rather than the black leather of the movies.
Of course, this is a Lego game, so humour is a big part of it. There are running gags, like the characters’ penchant for eating desserts during cut scenes, and truly funny stuff, like when the heroes overcome a typical game trope by using fire to force the Statue of Liberty into moving her arm from their path. “Why would heat cause pain to a metal statue? Oh well,” quips Wolverine. And then there are the subtle jokes, such as when a mechanic asks the player to remove all the snakes from the SHIELD helicarrier, as per Fury’s orders. It took me a beat, but I did a spit take when I figured that one out.
The main story is typical Lego adventure-platforming game fare. Each character has his or her own set of special abilities that are needed to move forward. The Hulk or the Thing, for example, can smash walls with cracks in them or move large objects that have green handles. Captain America, meanwhile, can reflect lasers with his shield to destroy certain objects or toss it into specific switches to open doors.
Over all, the campaign is more balanced than Lego Batman 2, where one character – ahem, Superman – overshadowed the others, simply because he had so many special abilities. Lego Marvel doesn’t really have that one character that can do it all, which necessitates the use of a variety of heroes.
It’s when the main story concludes, however, that the different characters and abilities become more important, at least to a certain subset of player. As with every previous TT Lego, completing a story mission unlocks its “free play” mode, where players can go back and change to any unlocked character in an effort to access all the hidden levels and items. Doing so reveals more characters, vehicles and even “Stan Lee in peril,” which is similar to the “student in peril” from the Lego Harry Potter games. Rescue Stan on each level and he rewards you with gold bricks. And yes, he’s also a playable character.
Lego Marvel is also set in a larger open world that’s full of side missions, many of which require the combined use of several characters and abilities. This time, the setting is New York City, with the SHIELD helicarrier serving as the player’s main control centre. Discovering all the hidden secrets using the various combinations of characters and abilities has always been the most addictive part of TT’s Lego games, and this one is no different. As usual, it’s an obsessive-compulsive completionist’s dream.
That said, it’s difficult to fathom how TT Games still hasn’t managed to fix some long-standing issues, especially after releasing so many of these games. It’s still not possible to vertically invert the camera, which itself can sometimes be wonky. And while flying was only recently added to the series in Lego Batman 2, it’s still not right – I found myself constantly smashing into buildings as the Human Torch or Iron Man.
Still, these are minor issues that don’t diminish the whole. Lego Marvel combines so much youthful goodness into one colourful, exciting and fun package that it’s impossible for any kid – or kid at heart – to miss out on.