Reviews

Lego Marvel Super Heroes – Review

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Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, Xbox One, PS4, PC and Wii U
Reviewed On: Xbox 360
Developer: Traveller’s Tales
Publisher: Warner Bros
Singleplayer: Yes
Multiplayer: 2-player local co-op

I’m a comic book lover, an avid reader of numerous Marvel, DC and indie titles ranging from the well-known names of Spider-Man and Batman to the lesser looked at heroes and villains. I’m also an avid lover of the Lego series, charming games that provide a welcome relief from blowing stuff up all the time, although they’re far worse than the Call of Duty series for being shoved out with rehashed gameplay.  So, when you combine the Lego license with the entire Marvel Universe, you’ve got a game that I was probably going to love from the very first minute.

I was wrong. It was the first second.

I mean, come on, what other game immediately puts you in control of both Iron Man and the Hulk, facing off against the combined might of Sandman and Abomination? How can you not love that? By having n0 soul, that’s how.

If you thought the Batman: Arkham games were bad for trying to wedge as many of the Dark Knight’s rogues gallery into its story as possible Lego Marvel Super Heroes will make you place your head in your hands and weep like a little baby, both amazed and dismayed at how many Marvel characters the developers have somehow jammed in to the game. There’s 155 of them to encounter, unlock and play as. Superheroes and villains turn up out of the blue for pretty much no reason all the time. Throughout the course of the game you’ll meet Wolverine, Spider-Man, The Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, Mandarin, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Abomination, Loki, Deadpool, The X-Men, The Fantastic Four, Sabretooth, Magneto, Mystique, Sandman, Venom, Carnage, Mastermind, Black Widow, Nick Fury, and dozens upon dozens more, both well-known and not. Why? No Idea. But even Squirrel Girl makes an appearance. If you have no idea who that is, go and Google her. She’s beaten Wolverine, Deadpool and numerous others. I’m not even joking.

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Aww, aren’t they cute?

You see once again Traveller’s Tales have crafted an original storyline for their adventure, but by trying to shovel as many of Marvel’s vast roster into the game the plot quickly gets lost under a pile of references to both the films and the comics. This time around the Silver Surfer gets blown up, creating super-powerful Cosmic Bricks which Doctor Doom wants to get his hands on in order to build his Doom Ray of Doom with the help of both Loki and Magneto. To complicate matters Dr. Doom has hired as many villains as possible, proving once and for all that crime really must pay, otherwise how the hell could he afford to pull this off? So, to combat this threat Nick Fury assembles the Avengers and a host of other Marvel heroes. It’s nonsense really, and the more critical part of me wants to pick a lot of it apart (why do villains like the Green Goblin agree to help out Doom?) but it is aimed at kids so I can hardly hold the simple script and desire to pack as many Marvel characters in there as possible against the developers, and as an avid comic and Marvel fan I admit to having a bemused smile on my face whenever someone else I knew appeared on-screen. Keep an eye out for Deadpool as well, who is practically everywhere, as is Stan Lee.

Canonically the game takes place right after the events of the both the Avengers movie and the third Iron Man, with them and the rest of the Marvel films being referenced constantly. But once the idea of Dr. Doom trying to blow stuff up is established, that’s about it for plot except for a twist that comes. He’s the bad guy, and you’re going to stop him. Simples.

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This is exactly how I look when someone asks me a maths question, just without the spiffy armor.

The trademark Lego charm is of course present throughout, aided by a fairly good cast of actors – including Clark Greg reprising his role as Agent Coulson and Nolan North as Deadpool – lending their voices to the little plastic figures. Iron Man (Tony Stark) constantly spouts cheesy one liners, Spider-Man complains bitterly about his life and its hard not to crack a smile when The Hulk makes a cup of tea or cleans up the street after having caused so much carnage. Yet for every smile the game teased out of me there was a joke or moment that fell flat or simply didn’t illicit any response from me. The schwarma running gag gets old fast, Stark’s one-liners lose their charm quickly and Spidey complaining about his teenage angst was just sort of…meh. There’s great moments like the Hulk gruffly declaring “Pilot error.” after Mister Fantastic crashes a plane or defeating Venom with the power of dubstep but I’ll go on record as saying that I found this to be the least funny game in the Lego series.

Even though I applaud Traveller’s Tales bold decision to introduce voice acting into the series I can’t help but feel the Lego games have lost some of their unique charm in the process, the enjoyment of watching the little plastic people miming their feelings and thoughts nothing but a distant memory. When I flick through all the times that I laughed or smiled in Lego Marvel Super Heroes it was rarely due to the dialogue which relies heavily on cringe-worthy puns this time around,  rather it was the daft stuff the heroes were doing or what was going on in the background. However, I must give credit to practically every one of Hulks lines, such as “HULK SMASH UGLY SIDEBURNS!”

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There’s a world to save, so stop posing for the camera.

For comic lovers there are references and winks to be found everywhere, from off-hand remarks about 20-year old story arcs to nods to modern tales. As always the developers have proven themselves more than capable of delving into the source material in order to please fans.

The game wastes no time in introducing heaps of playable characters, forming them into odd-ball dream-teams for your pleasure. Wolverine, Captain America and Iron Man will accompany Thor to Asgard one minute, while the next you’re controlling Hulk, Spider-Man and Mister Fantastic. But while the game does enjoy leaping around the focus does tend to come back to a few key characters like Spider-Man, Hulk, Iron Man and Captain America more than others, largely for gameplay reasons and also, presumably, due to their popularity. The downside is that some other characters with interesting abilities get largely ignored, like Iceman and his powers which allow him to create things out of water by freezing it or Jean Grey who can control people with her mind.

What the hardcore Marvel fans might be less pleased about is how certain character’s abilities have been fairly radically altered in order to fit neatly into the game. As a Spider-Man aficionado I was slightly horrified to find that his Spider-Sense didn’t detect danger, but rather could be activated to find hidden things in the environment that other’s couldn’t see for some reason. Meanwhile Mister Fantastic is capable of turning himself into cranes and even a fire truck that sprays water. These things are by no means a major issue with the game, but as a Marvel fan they did surprise me.

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When it comes to the missions you’ll be undertaking as these unlikely groupings the structure of each level is instantly familiar, following the standard Lego template. For those perhaps with limited knowledge of these games lets take a moment to recap the classic formula: you take control of several different characters at a time and must solve puzzles to progress through the levels, each of which usually ends in a fight against one of the big baddies. Puzzles in Lego games essentially amount to matching the right abilities with the right object.  Characters like the Hulk can smash through certain walls, Thor can charge up specific items, Iron Man can fly around to reach places others can’t, Mister Fantastic can squeeze through grates, Captain America can activate shield switches and so on and so on Progression, then, usually involves doing stuff like flying over to a switch so that the Hulk can get over a bridge in order to smash a wall which in turn reveals a level to be pulled . It’s very simple stuff and should it fail your second method of progressing is usually to smash up everything in the environment, and once you’ve attained enough wreckage hold down the B button to automatically construct and object out of the  pieces.

BigFigs like the Hulk are technically new additions to the game, but don’t alter the way you play as much as you might think. These big guys are the only ones capable of lifting certain objects and the like, even though Spider-Man and others should actually be capable of it too, and can take more punishment than others, as well as doll it out. All of this comes at the expense of not being able to build Lego objects, though, presumably because their hands are just too big and clumsy for it. All this really does for the gameplay is ensure that when the bad guys come running you’ll switch over to the Thing for some clobberin’ time.

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Combat remains a nice and simple affair with the threat of death non-existent as losing your lives only results in you being smashed to pieces and reappearing seconds later like nothing happened. Enemies falls to pieces pretty quickly allowing you to build up a combo chain, which in turn multiplies the value of Studs, the game’s currency, you pick up. Button mashing is still the name of the game here, and while it obviously lacks the depth that experienced gamers tend to demand it’s still quite enjoyable, and for kids is perfect.   Some of the finishing move animations, as well as the animations for certain character’s abilities, can take quite a while to run through, though. At first they’re fun to watch, but after a while I began to find having control taken away for 5-10 seconds at a time annoying.

For your pleasure a small chunk of New York and the entire S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier has been crafted by the developers in which you can play around with any character you’ve unlocked, partaking in various missions and activities which tend to boil down to doing the very same things you encountered in the main story missions over and over again. When it comes to getting around you can simply “borrow” any citizen’s vehicle, but frankly the handling model is downright awful, making the races a drudgery as well, so I suggest instead donning the Iron Man armor and flying through the streets at insane speeds. Yes, as you might have guessed any character with the ability to fly is the best way of navigating the city. The flight controls can be a bit of a pain to use, simply not allowing the precision or smoothness that one would hope, but overall hurtling around as Thor or the Green Goblin is a blast, and if that’s not your cup of tea then you can swing on webs or just levitate as Magneto. Scattered around the world is a load of collectibles, all of which usually involve a brief little puzzle, as are various basic side-quests. These are repetitive in nature, but provided you don’t go nuts doing one after the other this shouldn’t be too much of a problem. There are also areas where you can encounter villains, and special side-missions narrated by none other than Deadpool.

I’m still not buying this whole Helicarrier thing, but damn does it look cool.

There’s  a surprising lack of polish throughout the entire game that genuinely startled me coming from Traveller’s Tales. Their games are often flawed, but not quite to this degree. Much of it is small and unlikely to be noticed by younger gamers, but as an adult I couldn’t help but pay attention to such things, the most obvious of which is the baffling tutorial messages which often claim you need specific characters for a task when others are capable of doing the same thing. For example you’ll be told that “only web-slinging characters” can latch on to this handle, obviously implying that only Spider-Man is up to the task despite the fact that he’s not present in the level, when in fact other characters like Mister Fantastic and Hawkeye can latch on to the hooks, too. Ditto Captain America is the only one the game claims can deflect laser beams, even though Invisible Woman can do it as well. For adult gamers or for those well-versed in the Lego universe this won’t be a problem, but for a child who perhaps hasn’t played any of the series before it may be frustrating. Other things like how Sand-Man shouts “you two!” when there’s actually three heroes, or when Thor says he can’t call down lightning in a submarine even though he’s done it numerous times in that level also show a lack of attention. My AI partners  got caught up in scenery fairly often or were unable to navigate terrain properly without dying, forcing me to take control of them. I even experienced a few console crashes during my play-time and some stuttering, although as is always the case that may simply be my Xbox, though I did play several other games to check and they ran fine. The game also sometimes demands you stand in very specific places in order to do stuff, which can lead to frustration as you assume you’re train of thought was wrong and later discover you just were a few millimetres out.

Swapping characters quickly and smoothly also remains a problem, even though it could easily be avoided. You tap Y to switch between characters while pushing the analogue stick toward the desired hero or villain, but the game often gets confused and will leave you jumping madly between Wolverine and Hulk when you want Captain America. This becomes even more infuriating  when the game informs you of the specific character you need, and rather than just letting you switch instantly at the tap of a button you find yourself going back and forth until the game registers that you actually want that guy over there. Having the shoulder buttons or the triggers cycle playable characters would have been a perfect solution, but Traveller’s Tales seem intent on sticking with their clumsy method. It’s not a game breaker but considering how long the developers have been refining the series through twice-yearly releases such issues simply shouldn’t exist any more.

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Other control problems were an issue, like how both the melee and long-range attacks are mapped to X, resulting in you firing madly at off-screen targets instead of punching the guy that’s hitting you in the face, a problem made worse by the lousy auto-targeting system which seems sure that you wanted to attack that guy over there. Then there are characters with two abilities mapped to the same button, like Iron Mans laser and rockets. The game would sometimes register my attempt to use the laser as a command to fire rockets, and then would become unresponsive for a few seconds.

The game continues the series trend of actually look pretty darn good, something which continues to amaze me as you’d never naturally associate something Lego based as being visually impressive. There’s a pleasing amount of detail packed into the levels, and after the darker tones of both Lego Lord of the Rings and Lego Batman 2 the return of  vibrant, rich colors is most welcome. Character animations are also brilliant, such as the awesome transformation of Bruce Banner to the Hulk, Iron Man doing the robot if you leave him alone or Wolverine being reduced to an adamantium skeleton if he takes too much damage. There are some hiccups along the way in the form of graphical glitches, but generally speaking this is a fine looking title, and I had no doubt it looks even better running on next-gen consoles.

For years the souls of older Lego fans have been crying out in pain, hoping that Traveller’s Tales may finally relent and bring online co-op play back into the mix, but alas our dreams are again crushed as they stand resolute. Local co-op play is still available and thanks to the dynamic split-screen you and your friend can head off to opposite corners of the map or stay close by. Co-op is as fun as it has ever been, allowing you and your mate to cause carnage wherever you go, but as someone with no Lego loving friends nearby I still wish for a way to head online and play with my fellow gamers around the world.

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And then there’s Freeplay mode where the game truly comes alive. With this you can replay missions from the story using any of your unlocked characters, allowing you to access previously unreachable locations in which Golden Bricks and other stuff is hid. If that’s not enough you can also create your own custom heroes and villains by visiting a certain room located within the Helicarrier, where you can them mix and match body parts to make your dream character, like having a guy dressed in shades wielding captain America’s shield and Iron Man’s missiles/ flight abilities. The main story will likely take 7-10 hours to complete, but if you want to attain the illusive 100% rating then be prepared to sink at least 30 or 40 hours of your life into this Marvel brick-fest.

Lego Marvel Super Heroes also feels more generous than past titles with its Studs, dolling them out at a rapid pace so that you’ll quickly have acquired a few million through normal play and be able to afford some of the more expensive characters available. It’s a smart move, really, because why keep people waiting to play as their favorite heroes and villains?

Having made leaps and bounds over the past year and a bit with their games – introducing things like open-worlds, voice acting, original stories and such – it’s a bit of a shame to see Traveller’s Tales stick so rigidly to their traditional formula here, offering up nothing that can really be considered new, although that does of course mean it’s as good as it has ever been. In the world of games some series simply suit following a set pattern, slowly evolving with each new release and never radically altering the gameplay, and the LEGO franchise certainly seems to have found its niche in this sense of familiarity, each game only different from the last in small ways yet still feeling fun thanks to the various licenses used. Truthfully I can’t bring myself to criticise this method of developement as much as I would do Call of Duty, Battlefield  or other title, simply because it’s aimed at a much younger audience, one who likely finds that familiarity a strength as it allows them to jump straight in and have fun. In all honesty even I enjoy the familiarity in a way, because each Lego game is like seeing an old friend again. Still, I’d like to see the developers try to shake things up a little going forward, perhaps introducing simple stuff like character combination moves and expanding on the platforming sections.

As it stands this is easily one of the best Lego games to date, though  arguments could be made for Lego Batman 2 surpassing it thanks to stronger humour and more polish. Ultimately, though, it’ll likely be which license appeals to you more that wins the argument. Quirky, enjoyable and light-hearted Lego Marvel Super Heroes is one of the best kids games out there, and one that you can have fun with whether you grew up reading the classic comics or you’re growing up now on a diet of Marvel films and Miles Morales as Spider-Man.

The Good:
+ Huge roster of characters.
+ enjoyable, simple, charming gameplay.
+ Loads of fun for kids.

The Bad:
– A lack of polish.
– Not as funny as previous games.

The Verdict: 3.5/5 – Good, bordering on great.
As a Marvel fan I love this game, but as a reviewer there’s some flaws here that simply should not exist. It’s familiar in its gameplay, but still charming and fun, albeit not as funny as past entries.

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