Reviews// LEGO Marvel Super Heroes

Posted 14 Nov 2013 12:46 by
LEGO Marvel Super heroes may well be the best Marvel game of this generation. It comes, in suitably super-heroic fashion, just in the nick of time. It's not technical excellence or innovation that elevates it, so much as the warmth and love evident in every brick.

LEGO Marvel is an incredibly generous game. It could easily have been three games, if not six or seven. Spider-Man, the Avengers and the X-Men could easily have held up their own titles, if not the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Thor and Captain America. And yet, in one wee box, we get all of them.

Things start off on a cosmic level with Galactus, devourer of worlds, getting the munchies. The Silver Surfer shows up on Earth for a looksee and, while a confrontation with Iron Man and S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn't go very far, Doctor Doom shoots him out of the sky. His board shatters and falls to Earth as desirable cosmic bricks and, voilą, you have an excuse for lots of supervillains to be running around collecting things and lots of super-heroes running round to stop them.

The game plays out, in terms of mechanics, much as you'd expect. It blends combat, platforming and a serious dollop of environment-based puzzling. Combat is something of a mashathon. There's not much room for subtlety here, though quite how much subtlety you could reasonably expect from people made of bricks I'm not sure. There is an emphasis here on speed and getting around the screen quickly. Making the grunts shatter is relatively easy, but they'll come at you thick and fast.

Happily, while most characters have some sort of ranged and some sort of close attack they have enough... well, character, that they don't feel like clones. And you certainly won't feel like playing as the Hulk is equivalent to playing as Iron Man.

The different strengths and weaknesses come out best when navigating levels and solving the puzzles therein, though. Certain level elements are very specific to certain character types. You might, for instance, need Hawkeye's explosive arrows to eliminate a certain obstacles, or Spidey's webs to pull down something else.

The game really emphasises cooperative play, whether you're playing with another human or with AI. Using the different characters' strengths is crucial to getting through a level.

It might all feel a little overly designed, but the format dodges that bullet nicely. If this were a 'realistic' game then having this thing that Captain America had to hit with his shield then this thing that only Hulk could budge then this convenient doohickey or Spidey to web onto would all feel horribly contrived. But this is a game of a toy set of a comic. You just accept the contrivance, along with the nod and wink Traveller's Tales serves it up with.

Occasionally (mostly when you've missed a hint-hint cutscene) you can spend a couple of minutes blundering around a level until you arbitrarily find something you can interact with, but mostly the puzzles are satisfying in their particular brand of in-game logic.

Yes, it's all a bit easy. This has been true of LEGO games since the dawn of LEGO games. Some of the bosses, taken on their own merits, are reasonably challenging. The fact that death results in an instant respawn in the spot you just died, however, means that beating them is just a matter of persistence. Ultimately berating a family-friendly LEGO game for being easy feels like berating it for having LEGO bricks in it, though.

The real strength of LEGO Marvel is the joy with which it plunders the Marvel universe. Whether the decision to go all-in was down to licensing, a requirement from Marvel or a design-based choice, it pays off in spades. Without the constraints of any particular continuity ? film, comics or otherwise ? Traveller's Tale has cherry-picked with glee. You'll see, for example, the Stark Tower of the Avengers movie, but also the most unfilmable of characters, Squirrel Girl. There are reportedly some 150 playable characters in the mix.

You really get a sense of fun from the game's open world. Running round Gotham in LEGO Batman was fun, but it didn't compare to a Marvel New York that can have not only real-world landmarks like the Empire State building in it, but also the X-Mansion.

There are some subtle, smart design decisions for newer fans, such as making Iron Man's movement mirror that of his film counterpart or including Agent Coulson, but it's also great fun watching Spider-Man swing seemingly from thin air in a manner gloriously reminiscent of his 1967 cartoon series. The game even, knowingly or not, mines the science bros tumblr meme by pairing Iron Man and the Hulk right off the bat.

As with level design, the fact this is a game of a toy of a comic/film/game IP lets TT get away with an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach that could have been difficult to pull off with a straighter angle of attack. No need to ease anyone in to get a bit of audience buy-in here, they can afford to just throw Sandman at Grand Central Station within 10 minutes of the game's start.

The game isn't quite as funny as LEGO Batman 2 was in places, but there are still some great moments that gently poke fun at the characters, without ever poking fun at the player for enjoying them.

It's great that there's finally such a big, generous and fun game out there really digging into the world of Marvel. It's even better that it's a game which is so accessible to all levels of gamer.

Pros:
+ Big, accessible Marvel game
+ Loving adaptation
+ LEGO format is perfect for delivering a Marvel game

Cons:
- Nothing very new gameplay-wise
- Too easy, as ever

SPOnG Score: 4/5

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