For the longest time, I generally paid very little attention to Traveller’s Tales licensed Lego games. Not that I ever thought the games were bad, just that there are very few licensed games that I ever felt were worth my time; why would this series of Lego games be any different? However, the reception to last year’s Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes, which incorporated an open-world, full voice acting, an original story, and a plethora of DC characters to play as piqued my interest. Given that Lego Marvel Super Heroes promised to build off of Lego Batman 2’s framework, but with, obviously, the Marvel Comics canon, I found myself actually looking forward to a licensed Lego game. And now that I’ve had a chance to sit down and see it through, I can say that Lego Marvel Super Heroes has made me a true believer.
Lego Marvel’s story begins with the Silver Surfer crash-landing onto Earth, bringing with him a collection of “Cosmic Bricks” that harbor a great power. It’s up to the Marvel heroes to make sure the various villains such as Loki, Doctor Doom, and Magneto don’t gain these bricks for their own ulterior motives, leading to a story that treks across familiar Marvel locales such as Stark Tower, the X-Mansion, and Asgard.
The story is simple and won’t blow any minds, but it is great at providing opportunities for Marvel’s large cast of heroes and villains to interact with each other, usually in ways rarely seen in the movies or comics. Heroes are pitted against villains atypical of their rogues gallery - the first mission sees Iron Man and Hulk facing off against Sandman, while a later mission pits Black Widow and Hawkeye against Venom - leading to moments that are both filled to the brim with fan-service and moments that subvert it.
The bulk of the story follows about a dozen or so main heroes - mainly those who have appeared in theatrical films within the last five years - such as Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor, Wolverine, and the Fantastic Four, traversing through linear levels in a similar vein to previous Lego games. Given the nature of the license and the story, the spectacle is much grander than past Lego games, with colossal boss fights that I would more expect to see in triple-A action games, but the gameplay never stops being simple. There is a lack of challenge or punishment for failure - virtually all the combat can be won through button mashing - but fans of the Lego series will feel right at home here. Given Traveller's Tales penchant for making family-friendly games that all ages can enjoy, I don't really feel the lack of combat difficulty is a detriment to the game.
Challenge manifests itself in other ways throughout the various puzzles present in the game, taking the form of Lego blocks that the characters use to build contraptions to suit the situation at hand, or using each character’s individual power to move forward. Captain America throws his shield to unlock switches, Spider-Man can use his webs to pull specific points, and lightning-based characters like Thor and Storm can charge up conductors. There’s a lot of overlap between each character’s abilities, and moments like finding out that both Mister Fantastic and Sandman can solve the same type of environmental puzzles is fun in itself.
The story levels follow the traditional Lego game template, but Lego Marvel also follows the same open-world formula established in Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes and Lego City Undercover, featuring a wide variety of collectables, side-missions, and races in an open-world New York City. Traversing the city as any hero of your choice is a blast, and speeding through the New York skyline as Iron Man, Thor, or even more obscure Marvel characters like Nova and Black Bolt is truly breathtaking.
The attention to detail paid to each hero is worth the price of admission alone. Iron Man’s suits have different functionality depending on what era you’re wearing. Thor cannot throw his hammer at enemies while flying because he needs it to stay afloat. Ant-Man even gets his own set of miniature puzzles that only he can solve. There are certain annoyances that come from not meshing properly with the license, such as Storm being unable to fly or Absorbing Man not doing anything except swinging his mace, but given the huge amount of playable characters, most of whom have their own unique features, it’s forgivable to an extent.
What’s less forgivable is the erratic split-screen co-op camera. During missions played co-op, the split-screen will dynamically adjust depending on the players’ orientation between each other. It provides for a cool, comic-booky effect visually, but in practice is incredibly jarring and even makes it impossible do some of the basic puzzles. The dynamic camera can be turned off and replaced with basic vertical split-screen, but even the puzzle issue remains. It’s an unfortunate blight on a series in which co-op play is so integral to the experience. Plus, the fact that it's 2013 and these games still don't have online co-op is perplexing.
Minor complaints aside, I’m finding myself yearning to go back to this game even as I write this review. There are not many games I feel compelled to return to after reviewing them, but Lego Marvel Super Heroes is the rare exception. I can’t wait to unlock the rest of the characters, complete the side missions, and eventually 100% the game (I’ve put in over 15 hours so far, and the game says I’m only about 13% complete. Yikes!). Whether you’re a fan of Lego, Marvel, or just fun, open-world games, Lego Marvel Super Heroes excels.
This review is based on a retail copy of Lego Marvel Super Heroes for the PS4