There is no shortage of super hero games. Whether they belong to Marvel or DC, the gaming industry has a boatload of super hero titles that far too often miss the mark. Most of the time these games are awful because they’re either blatant IP cash-ins or they’re released alongside a big budget Hollywood movie. We all know how movie-to-game releases end: in a viscous puddle of bile-flavoured upchuck. Occasionally, however, we get lucky and wind up with games like the Batman: Arkham series, even though the most recent entry was a little underwhelming.
Then you get Traveller’s Tales’ LEGO Marvel Super Heroes – a game that, on paper, shouldn’t even exist due to how nuts the whole thing’s premise sounds. It’s basically nearly every Marvel hero and villain from more than 50 years of comic books, all thrown into one overarching plotline, and all made out of LEGO. It ends up being one of the most lovingly irreverent comic book experiences ever, and we should all be very grateful that LEGO Marvel Super Heroes is a thing that exists.
Dr. Doom has, like all self-respecting evil doctors, a nefarious plot to overthrow the world. He’s building Dr. Doom’s Doomsday Device of Doom using a bunch of cosmic LEGO bricks and some help from Loki. In order for his plan to work he also needs the help of every super villain on Earth, so he joins forces with Magneto and his Brotherhood of Mutants, the Sinister Six, and more. At the forefront of the opposition is S.H.I.E.L.D, which wastes no time in recruiting EVERYONE to stop Dr. Doom. The X-Men, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, and sundry other heroes like Spiderman all join forces to thwart Doom and Loki’s plans. Cue unlikely pairings, ludicrous situations involving the Statue of Liberty, space bases, frost giants, sandwiches, jailbreaks and velociraptors.
If you’ve played a Traveller’s Tales LEGO game before, then you’ll be instantly familiar with the core gameplay mechanics. Each character has a special ability that must be used to solve some basic, switch-based puzzles in order to progress through the levels. There are enemies to beat into little piles of clackety plastic bricks, and some light platforming. Every level culminates in a boss fight that utilises the aforementioned basic gameplay mechanics in some way or another. It’s a formula that Traveller’s Tales hasn’t deviated from since their first LEGO game: 2005’s LEGO Star Wars. While this sounds negative, the pillars that hold up the gameplay still work well, and I hardly noticed any signs of boredom throughout my playthrough. That is, I’m willing to bet, largely thanks to the unending trickle of new (and utterly adorable) characters and the consistently varied level environments. The vast majority of people who pick up LEGO Marvel Super Heroes will be doing so for the smorgasbord of Marvel characters and a deep-seated love for comic book culture – loving LEGO probably helps as well.
An interesting addition to the game is the S.H.I.E.L.D helicarrier, which acts as a home base of sorts. It’ll be familiar to anyone who has seen the recent Avengers film. The helicarrier is where you’ll be able to design your own super hero (using many weapons, looks and super hero abilities from the Marvel universe), unlock items like comic books and stud multipliers, and partake in numerous side quests. The side quests rarely go beyond simple fetch quests; however there are a few that are so meta they’ll make film fans’ heads spin. One, for example, has you clearing out a bunch of snakes at the behest of Director Fury because he’s “sick of these gosh darn snakes on this gosh darn helicarrier”. (You get the cross-movie referencing there, right? I don’t need to explain it?) Another neat feature of the helicarrier is that it acts as your springboard (literally) into the rather massive, open-world New York hub area. Once you get a mission, you leap off the edge of the helicarrier and freefall your way down into New York. Once there you can either head off to your mission area or you’re free to wander the streets of New York looking for side quests and character unlocks – of which there is a massive amount. While it’s hardly a detailed and captivating open-world, it certainly makes for a sizable distraction that will keep completionists busy for weeks and weeks.
I keep finding myself going back to the game’s character roster. There’s quite a mix of character versions to be found, with numerous characters having multiple story arc appearances to unlock. You’ll find characters that are ostensibly in their traditional comic book outfits, but then you’ll also find film adaptations. The Avengers are all based off the recent film; LEGO Robert Downey Jr. and LEGO Samuel L. Jackson are awesome even if they’re voiced by, albeit very good, voice actors rather than the actors themselves. The noticeable exceptions to this is that actor Clark Gregg voices Agent Coulson and Stan Lee voices himself – plus 10 Geek Points for Traveller’s Tales.
Each character has a ranged attack (Spiderman shoots balls of web, Hawkeye shoots arrows, Ironman shoots missiles, etc.) as well as melee attacks, but they all have a special ability that is utilised to solve puzzles. Many of the characters’ special abilities actually overlap. For example: Spiderman has the ability to pull certain objects by shooting webbing onto specific hooks; this same special ability can be performed by Doctor Octopus, albeit with robotic arms instead of webbing. Similarly, Black Widow’s special cloaking ability is echoed by Fantastic Four’s Invisible Woman’s. This isn’t really an issue, however, and it can also be put down to innate similarities within Marvel’s cast of characters.
Unfortunately, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes exhibited a couple of bugs, especially when it came to the larger characters like Hulk and The Thing. These big characters obviously required some level reworking (walkways and doorways needed to be larger) but I often found them running straight over barrier railings and falling off the edge of platforms. This was exacerbated by the fixed camera angles during missions. Furthermore, I somehow managed to get Wolverine stuck in an infinite death loop by falling off the edge of a cliff and into the sea. He’d respawn only to slide straight off the cliff again; I had to quit and restart, thereby losing my progress in that mission.
Very minor bugs aside, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes is some of the best fun I’ve had in a while. It’s very often silly and loves to make fun of its subject matter, but it’s also hilarious with some clever writing and absurd humour rounding off the whole package. The detail in each of the main characters is rather startling when you consider they’re really just digital versions of plastic toys. Still, it’s the little touches that bring the characters to life: Tony Stark has his smirk and swagger; Bruce Banner stands slightly hunched and nervous when he’s not three times the size and a bright shade of green. Speaking of which, the Hulk transformation is utterly glorious.
Whether you’re a serious comic book nerd, or if your knowledge of Marvel’s universes doesn’t extend beyond their numerous contemporary feature films, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes is a fantastic experience and one that has enough content to keep you (and a friend through split-screen!) entertained for weeks.