Ever since it paired one of George Lucas' famous trilogies with Danish plastic bricks, developer Traveller's Tales has seen nothing but success, both commercially and critically for its LEGO franchise. The idea of re-creating scenes and scenarios from pop culture franchises with LEGO bricks — and the right balance of humor and action —resonated well with almost everyone. From Indiana Jones to Harry Potter to The Lord of the Rings, the LEGO formula works, and the changes and tweaks as the series continues improves each title. Almost eight years after the release of LEGO Star Wars, the team is taking on LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, and it's one of its best and most ambitious titles to date.
Much like LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes, the plot focuses on something original as opposed to an existing comic book or movie arc. The game opens with the Silver Surfer learning that his master, the planet-eating Galactus, is hungry and wants him to find a planet worthy enough to satisfy his appetite. He travels to Earth, where he's being chased by Iron Man and S.H.I.E.L.D. Before he is captured, he is shot down and captured by Doctor Doom instead, and his surfboard shatters into pieces and is transformed into cosmic cubes. Enlisting the help of other super villains and a certain demigod from Asgard, Doom plans to use the cubes to power up a doom ray. Meanwhile, Loki wants power. With the task being too big for just one super hero group, it'll take every Marvel hero to stop Doom, Loki and Galactus.
At first glance, the game seems like it could go down the same path as Marvel Ultimate Alliance, where just about everyone in the universe gets involved and all of your actions have a domino effect. That isn't the case here. The main Avengers (Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man and Thor) and S.H.I.E.L.D. agents (Black Widow and Hawkeye) take center stage and are involved in a majority of the levels. When others are introduced — from the X-Men to Spider-Man to the Fantastic Four — there is some rationale to their involvement. The locations also make sense, and it never feels like the game wants you to go to a random spot to artificially extend the gameplay time or for a radical scenery change.
Fans will also be pleased to hear that the humor is still intact, and it appeals to both younger and older players alike. Visual gags are aplenty, and some range from background shenanigans, like seeing the bats and rats get carried or shocked in Latveria, to more overt things, like seeing Hulk grab a piece of ground that crumbles because it's made of sand. Stan Lee does his impression of Where's Waldo? (as he does in the movies), but Deadpool also shows up in places and does things that are just as absurd. The decision to make the LEGO characters speak is still divisive to fans, but the lines cover a wide humor range. You'll hear Hulk's pants rip or Hulk complain about rain and ugly sideburns. Others throw some movie and comic references, such as Iron Man asking Wolverine why he's not in Canada trying to find his past or Nick Fury asking for shawarma. There are some rather old jokes, like a "Snakes on a Plane" reference, but the overall humor is broad enough to be appealing to everyone.
For the most part, the gameplay found here is essentially the same as it is in all of the other LEGO licensed games. This is primarily a 3-D beat-'em-up with a few platforming and puzzle elements, and it's intended for younger gamers. Though there are a few puzzles that require some thought, most of the tasks are easy, especially since you always have the necessary tools at your disposal in the form of the characters and their specific powers. You'll often be required to switch between several characters to get through levels and boss fights, which end up being multiphase affairs. Completing the levels earns you gold bricks, the main objective for all LEGO games, but completing other tasks also helps you earn them.
Taking a page from LEGO City Undercover, the game adds some open-world action to the mix. In between missions, you can use the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier as your main hub. It is a very large place to explore and has lots of missions to complete, but the real thrill comes from skydiving into New York City. A large chunk of Marvel's vision of the city is available for you to explore, and while it may seem like the place is more compact than the real NYC, it remains quite sizeable for something that isn't considered an open-world title. You'll meet up with random citizens and borrow their vehicles for better transportation opportunities. Like the helicarrier, the city offers missions to complete, adding a great deal to the game's longevity.
Longevity has always been a big thing with the LEGO games, and LEGO Marvel Super Heroes addresses that in both expected and unexpected ways. The Free Play mode is a staple of the series, and the number of secret areas in each level reaches ludicrous levels. It really inspires you to come back at least once with a completely different roster if you want to unlock it all. Gaining gold bricks often unlocks bonus missions in new areas, including a circus and Marvel's offices. Each mission has a set of objectives, gold bricks and character icons to dole out as rewards. The open world and helicarrier missions do this to a smaller extent, perpetuating a cycle where you take on missions to earn more bricks for more tasks. This becomes rewarding when you find red bricks and unlock the Deadpool missions, which provide game extras like multipliers and extra health. The scenes are told in comic book format, and Deadpool serves as the narrator, so this is a great bonus for fans.
In terms of character count, this title probably takes the award for most characters in a LEGO licensed game yet. Other LEGO-licensed games had multitudes of characters, but they felt like padding since you'd control generic characters or those with severely limited abilities. There's some of that here, and you can make your own figures, but the majority of the roster is comprised of Marvel luminaries. There are the big hitters, like Cyclops, Human Torch and Spider-Man. There are some fan favorites, like Venom and Agent Coulson. The lesser-known characters are sure to delight die-hard Marvel fans the same way that DC fans were tickled with Scribblenauts Unmasked. Having The Punisher show up in a non-M-rated game is surprising, and the presence of Gwen Stacy and Ghost Rider will please those who only know about the Marvel universe via films. Including characters like Captain Britain, H.E.R.B.I.E., Leader and Ronan the Accuser is just inspired. Even Howard the Duck is here, showing the developers really did their research or are huge fans.
What's more amazing is that the playable characters feel unique. Like the comic book characters, some of the base powers are shared, so there is a little bit of interchangeability. Both Invisible Woman and Black Widow can cloak themselves to get past security systems, but Invisible Woman can fly while Widow can activate switches and has projectile attacks. This is probably one of the more accurate representations of some famous Marvel characters in video games. Playing as Iron Man here feels more authentic than in his previous games, as he flies and fights in a manner similar to the films. The Fantastic Four finally have a game that does them justice, even if they aren't the main focus of the title. This also applies to the larger figures in the game, like Abomination, Hulk, Juggernaut and Thing, to name a few, who are strong brutes but lack the grace to assemble objects. The sense of individuality with all of the characters is quite possibly the best thing about the game.
Though LEGO Marvel Super Heroes is one of the more improved and ambitious LEGO licensed titles to date, it can't shake some of the issues that have plagued the series. The pathing issues for AI characters remains problematic, as characters rarely follow you all of the time, causing character switches to be a little disorienting. Their anxiousness to fight but refusal to pick up items also means you have to do all of the heavy lifting, reinforcing the idea that this is definitely a game best played with another person. While it may be fine that the multiplayer limit is still two, some players may feel that the lack of online multiplayer is too antiquated. Finally, there are times when some puzzle solutions are found by accident because the game doesn't tell you what you can and can't do. One particular instance of this occurred early on in the game, when you're blocked by a tanker truck and you need Iron Man's missiles to blow it up. This is the first level of a game meant for kids, and since each hero has multiple powers, it's a weird omission since all of the other powers are explained in that level.
Graphically, the game is quite good and shows nice progression from a technical standpoint. Locked at a solid 30 fps at all times, the title displays very detailed environments and characters. Animations are smooth, and particle effects like rain puddles and snow provide a nice sense of polish. The particles show how far the engine has come. This is especially evident early on in the Sandman fights, as there's a stunning number of small LEGO pieces that help generate his attacks and obstacles. Lighting also has seen some improvement, with a healthy amount of lens flare and colored light reflections on the environment becoming prominent. It can be a little too much, though, with the LEGO figures reflecting some of the environment with an unbelievable shine. It's a nice graphical trick, but it detracts from the scenes instead of enhancing them.
Things are less impressive from an audio standpoint, but it's still good enough for most players. The music tries very hard to emulate the vibe in "The Avengers," with epic orchestral tracks infused with some rock, and for the most part, it succeeds. There are times when the music goes on for too long and doesn't know when to switch over to the next track, especially when you're free-falling into the city from the helicarrier, but the score works. Believe it or not, the voices all come from various other Marvel properties, animated or otherwise. Whether you agree with the choices influences how much you care for the voices of certain characters, but it's comforting that they didn't recast everyone.
As far as the current-generation platforms are concerned, the Wii U version might be the best one for two specific reasons. Graphically, the game is a little better than the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions. It offers a slightly higher resolution and better lighting. It isn't anywhere close to what the PC, PS4 and Xbox One versions can deliver, but the improvement is noticeable. Secondly, the Wii U GamePad is put to good use. Fast character switching is available via the touch-screen and buttons, though the ability is mostly useful when you're in free play mode and you have a large enough cast to juggle. Off TV play is also available via the screen, but you'll need the TV to perform essential tasks, like start the game and loading save files. That means the feature is only good if you're continuing play from the TV rather than starting without the TV at all.
The most beneficial feature of the GamePad is local multiplayer, since you can skip split-screen play when you and your partner are far away from each other. You'll get a full view of your character on the GamePad while the other player can get a full view of their character on the TV. This demonstrates how well the setup can work and hopefully becomes a blueprint for future local co-op games. The only thing missing are Achievements/Trophies, which require names and situations that elicit a few more chuckles. Otherwise, the benefits certainly outweigh the lack of virtual baubles.
Lego Marvel Super Heroes is fantastic. The length of the game feels right, and the number of secrets and alternate avenues in each stage really encourages multiple playthroughs. The character roster may be numerous, but each one is handled in such a way that they feel true to form. The game is still a ton of fun while looking great, and in a rare move, the Wii U version isn't shortchanged. Unless you don't care for either Marvel or LEGO, this game is definitely worth picking up.
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