In LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, Galactus, the world-devourer, is on his way to Earth. Silver Surfer, his herald, arrives before him, but Surfer's surfboard has been destroyed, scattering cosmic bricks around the world. The heroes and villains of Marvel are racing to collect cosmic bricks before Galactus arrives, and the dastardly villains want it for themselves. It's cute and simple, but it provides a good backdrop for the heroes to team up to fight villains. The game borrows from every version of Marvel. There are references to the live-action movies, the comic books, the cartoons, and other video games. Some of the jokes are accessible to all players while others are in-jokes for the Marvel faithful. I hope you like terrible puns because the game is full of them. Spider-Man can't open his mouth without a terrible pun falling out, and the rest of the cast isn't far behind.
If you haven't played a LEGO game before, all of the LEGO Marvel characters are represented by LEGO minifigs, and most of the environments are constructed entirely out of LEGO bricks. You must figure out how to progress by using a combination of the characters' abilities and the universal power of building new objects from scattered LEGO pieces. Destroying LEGO objects rewards you with studs (the game's currency) as well as hidden items that unlock additional characters and new objects. The gameplay is designed for players of all ages — especially kids — to enjoy.
Combat involves mashing a single button, occasionally pausing to use a jump attack or charge attack. The variety comes from using different characters rather than mixing up your combat moves. Death is a minor inconvenience, since the characters respawn instantly upon death but lose some studs. You can switch between characters at will, and two players can co-op the adventure together. Not much has changed from the early days of the LEGO formula, so if you've played a recent LEGO game, you'll know how to play LEGO Marvel.
The biggest selling point is the massive number of heroes and villains in the game. LEGO Marvel goes out of its way to make sure every character has attributes that determine which puzzles they can solve and which items they can interact with. Spider-Man can swing on webs, climb walls, and use his powers to pull down obstacles. Mr. Fantastic can alter his shape to slip through grates or turn into different tools to solve a puzzle. Big minifigs, like The Hulk and The Thing, can lift huge objects. There are magnetic heroes, fire heroes, morphing heroes, and everything in between. Not every character is identical. Superspy Black Widow and super soldier Captain America share the ability to perform acrobatic wall-jumps, but Cap can't hack into computers like Black Widow can, nor can Black Widow block enemy attacks like Cap can. Perhaps the only downside is that, for balance reasons, certain characters end up missing abilities they should have. Genius intellect Spider-Man doesn't qualify as a "smarter character" for objects that require it, nor can he lift heavy things despite having the proportional strength of a spider. It's hard to complain when so many of a character's abilities are faithfully represented.
Gameplay is divided up into a few different areas. There are interior levels, where you must follow specific paths and perform specific actions to advance, and a large free-roaming LEGO version of New York City that you can explore to find hidden items. It's not quite Grand Theft Auto, but it's about as close as you'll get in a children's game. Many areas contain hidden places that you can only access with specific heroes, and very often, you won't have those heroes the first time you're playing through the game. This can be a little annoying when you're forced to backtrack later, but it also adds some replay value. There is a ton to find, and you can explore to seek out a bunch of new minifigs or collect studs to unlock extra features. There's also a healthy helping of boss battles, which liven up the game. Most are extended puzzle sequences, but the game does a good job of making them feel meaningful, whether it's chasing Doctor Octopus around the city or helping the X-Men take down Juggernaut. Many boss battles involve switching between multiple characters, and it makes them feel exciting. Some fights are a little weak but are always enjoyable. So many Marvel classics are represented here that you're almost certain to see a favorite hero and villain duke it out.
The biggest problem with LEGO Marvel is that it feels like more of the same. Many of the minor problems that existed in other LEGO games still exist here. The flying controls, which were awkward in LEGO Batman 2, are still awkward in this title. There are many little control problems that could've been ironed out but remain the same. It's annoying when you're trying to build something as Iron Man and you accidentally use the Unibeam charge instead because it's tied to the same button and you were standing just a step or two to the left. I also encountered many glitches, although most resolved after a quick death/respawn or, at worst, a restart. It's a little frustrating because I had these problems with other LEGO games, and LEGO Marvel feels like reshuffling the deck instead of a solid improvement. The basic formula is quite good, so it's not a bad game. It's just very familiar and perhaps growing a little long in the tooth.
LEGO Marvel on PS4 isn't a huge step up from its last-gen counterparts. While there are some visual improvements, I didn't notice anything that felt like I was playing a next-gen version. Oddly, I encountered some slowdown, which felt out of place for such a low-impact game.
LEGO Marvel is dripping with personality. There are tons of in-jokes, references, and visual in-jokes. While combat is button-mashy, there are different animations for many characters. Black Widow slides around enemies in a judo throw, and The Hulk smashes exactly as he smashed Loki at the end of "The Avengers." If there's one weak area, it would be the voice acting. A lot of it feels dull and forced, especially in comparison to LEGO Batman 2. Nick Fury sounds like he doesn't want to be there, and Tony Stark tries desperately to capture Robert Downy Jr.'s effortless self-confidence and fails. It's pretty mediocre and hurts a few of the game's otherwise funny jokes. Likewise, the music is a tad dull, mimicking the bombastic soundtrack of "The Avengers" movie, which is less memorable than the Batman, Harry Potter, or Lord of the Rings themes.
LEGO Marvel Super Heroes is one of the most solid entries in the LEGO franchise to date. It has a huge cast of characters, a fun world to explore, and tons of content. It doesn't break the mold in any way, but it offers a good experience, so it's possible to overlook the lack of major upgrades. It isn't the most impressive debut for the LEGO franchise as a next-gen title, but it's acceptable, even if it makes limited use of the power of the PS4. Traveller's Tales has made yet another excellent game that is accessible to players of all ages. If you or your kids like LEGO titles, you'll certainly enjoy this trip into the Marvel universe.
More articles about LEGO Marvel Super Heroes